At the NHL's general manager meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. this week, one rule proposal seems like it could become a reality quicker than any other: Hybrid Icing. The combination of touch-and-no-touch icing is in its second year of use at the NCAA level, and it's been part of USHL junior hockey since 2007.
The idea has been on the drawing board at the NHL level for years, but it really began to grab traction in 2010, when the league tested hybrid icing at its first-ever Research, Development and Orientation Camp. At the time, we interviewed the man who created it, USHL Director of Hockey Ops Scott Brand.
Brand was originally tasked with solving the dilemma: How do we make puck races safe without completely eliminating them? Hybrid icing was his solution.
"We felt we had to come up with an alternative to touch icing," Brand said. "We didn't want to go with automatic. I hate automatic icing and I think most people hate automatic icing because it creates lazy ass defensemen."
"I said, 'okay, what are we trying to avoid?' We're trying to avoid contact. So if we move the point of no contact out to the [faceoff] dot, a guy sliding from the dot to the end boards isn't going to get hurt. What you have to do is ask one question -- who would've touched the puck first? Very simple question. That decision is made by the dot."
The one major concern in NHL circles regarding the switch to a hybrid icing system is the complexity of the rule and the adaptation period necessary to make that change. NHL general managers won't officially recommend the rule change without nailing down the language as to avoid that confusion, as Montreal Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier told NHL.com Tuesday:
"It's easy to have these ideas and try to push them forward, but when it comes time to actually write up the rules and think of all the situations and all the scenarios that could happen on the ice, making it clear enough so that we can give our on-ice officials the proper direction, there is a lot of work to do," Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier said. "It's going to go forward as a recommendation, but there is some cleaning up as to how exactly it is going to work and what directives we're going to give."
That's a fair concern to have, and it's good that the general managers are doing their due diligence. But according to one NCAA Division 1 head coach, the transition will be much easier for NHL players than it was for collegiate players at the start of the 2010-11 season.
"I thought the transition was pretty smooth," Quinnipiac University head coach Rand Pecknold told SB Nation. "I didn't think it took long at all for kids to figure it out -- for the officials or the players to figure it out.
"I think the NHL would be even quicker because they have to touch [the puck] anyways. You have to race for it anyway. They're used to it. They're just going to race to the dot instead of all the way to touch the puck. I think it's going to be an even easier transition for the NHL and it was a fairly easy transition at the college level."
Hybrid icing isn't flawless. The obvious criticism is that it forces officials to make too much of a judgment call on which player would theoretically win a race to the puck. Mistakes are made now though too, aren't they?
"The only negative to it is that there's a bit of judgment on the part of the linesman," Pecknold said. "You know, who got to the dot first? They are human and they're going to make mistakes sometimes, but I think you see in the NHL every once in a while that they make mistakes on who touched the puck first when they get there at the same time. So it's not going to be that different. Those are professional officials. Full-time, paid linesmen. The best in the world. They're going to figure it out pretty quickly."
In terms of implementation and practice, the hybrid icing experiment has gone quite well at the collegiate level over the last two seasons, and there's no reason to expect a different outcome at the NHL level. Considering the level of talent both in the player pool and the officiating ranks in the pros, it's likely that the outcome at the NHL level is even better than it's been in the NCAA.
It might not be a completely perfect rule, but it certainly beats an automatic icing system where players stop skating long before the puck ever reaches the far end of the ice. That's a problem now in the minor-pro leagues where automatic icing reigns supreme, and it's a problem mostly eliminated by hybrid icing.
"I think it's good for the game," Pecknold continued. "It creates a race, which more often than not the defensive team wins, but there is occasionally the situation where the offensive player will beat the defensive player to the dot and is rewarded for hard work. When that does happen, it speeds up the game a little bit and it does give you reward for working hard."
The hybrid rule limits or perhaps even completely gets rid of injuries caused by icing while still keeping the element of excitement and the need for hard work in icing situations. It's gone over well at the USHL level, the college level and it will almost certainly be the same at the NHL level. Seems like a no-brainer, really.