The Carolina Hurricanes lost one of their top-four defenseman on Tuesday when Joni Pitkanen sprinted into his own zone to win an icing race and injured his ankle as a result of his foot colliding with the end boards.
The veteran blueliner was taken off the ice in a stretcher and will not return to the Hurricanes' lineup in 2013, according to TSN's Darren Dreger.
Darren Dreger @DarrenDreger
Brutal news out of Carolina. Pitkanen's ankle injury will end his season. Expected to be out 3 months. #TSN4/3/2013, 3:11:58 AM
This incident is the perfect example of why the NHL must adopt hybrid icing for next season to make the game safer, especially for defensemen who take part in icing races multiple times each game.
Here is a video of Pitkanen's collision with the boards:
The point of hybrid icing is to avoid major collisions with the boards and decrease the chances of horrible injuries occurring in icing situations.
In hybrid icing, the race to the puck ends at the faceoff dot and not when a player touches it below the goal line. If the defending team wins the race to the faceoff dot, the whistle is blown. If the attacking team wins the race, there is no whistle.
This version of icing gives players more space between the bottom of the faceoff circle and the end boards to gather themselves and skate around the net, which helps avoid dangerous collisions with the boards.
Would this play in Carolina have been blown dead by the linesman? In this race between Pitkanen and Washington Capitals forward Troy Brouwer, was the Carolina defenseman the clear winner? It was close, but it appears that Pitkanen was winning the race by a large enough margin to earn a whistle and not have to skate full speed toward the boards.
Earlier this season, Montreal Canadiens forward Brandon Prust separated his shoulder after he crashed into the boards while trying to win an icing race.
If the NHL used hybrid icing, this play would have been whistled dead because Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer was the clear winner of the race at the faceoff dot. Once the whistle was blown, Prust would have had enough time and space to avoid a collision with the glass or brace himself to lessen the force of the impact.
Much like the current touch-icing system, linesmen will need to make a judgement call to determine which player reached the faceoff dot first in a hybrid-icing scenario. This may result in a few more blown calls in icing situations than we are accustomed to, but the increased level of safety and the smaller chance of significant injuries occurring as a result of icing races make this change worthwhile.
While a lot of players have experience in leagues where hybrid icing is used, not every NHLer is familiar with this system.
To help players and coaches adjust to hybrid icing, the NHL should educate teams this summer with videos and other presentations, use the new icing system in the preseason and gather feedback that will be used to make changes and address concerns.
Hybrid icing has been used in NCAA competition over the last few years and it's been a smooth process. The AHL also tested hybrid icing during the NHL lockout. Players didn't take long to adjust and get used to the new system, and in both leagues, it was clear that the hybrid icing system made the game a bit safer.
We don't see too many injuries happen from icing collisions in the NHL, but the threat is still present in each game. When players do get hurt as a result of losing an edge below the goal line or from crashing into the boards, these injuries are usually very serious and sometimes career-ending.
Using hybrid icing in the NHL won't erase all injures that occur as a result of two guys racing toward the end boards to touch the puck, but it would increase the safety of the players without changing the game in a drastic manner.
According to Dan Rosen of the NHL.com, the league and the NHLPA don't share the same view in the icing debate:
Dan Rosen @drosennhl
GMs want to implement hybrid icing; NHLPA wants no-touch or status quo. Competition Committee meets in June, will discuss hybrid icing.4/3/2013, 1:46:37 AM
If the NHL does not use hybrid icing for the 2013-14 preseason, then it must be a topic of discussion at next year's general managers meetings. There's no reason for the NHL to keep using touch-icing when there's another effective system that makes the game safer and has worked in other leagues.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston. All salary information courtesy of CapGeek.