The NHL and Hybrid Icing: One-Year Later

Kurtis Foster, fan of the new version of the icing rule in the NHL - Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE

We've played a full season using hybrid icing in the NHL, and for the most part it has been a success, but is it the final answer?

The 2013-14 NHL Season has been over for 3 weeks now, we've seen the draft come and go, and free agency kicked off with a bang but has sputtered out pretty quickly. Last season was quite the success when you consider the NHL played a full 82-game season and brought with it some dramatic series in the Playoffs. The Wild's game 7 OT win in Denver, the Kings going down 0-3 in their opening series against the Sharks and then turning the tables to win that series in 7 games, and a very emotional ride off into the sunset moment for living legend Teemu Selanne after the Ducks elimination from the 2nd round.

The season also brought with it some rules changes, 1 in particular that would dramatically change how the game was called, Hybrid Icing.

We have now played a full season in the NHL with the Hybrid Icing rule in effect. The rule was changed from the race to the puck fashion we have been used to since it's inception in September 1937, to a race to the faceoff dot judgement call version we saw this season. The reason for this change is obvious, even more obvious if your name is Kurtis Foster.

The rule was changed to mitigate injuries like Foster's. When you have to skaters racing full speed ahead at a wall to touch up an impending icing call, these sorts of injuries are bound to happen. The Hybrid Icing rule has worked. Players no longer racing into the end-boards, we do not see these massive collisions behind the goal-line and injuries like Foster's or concussions seem to have all but eliminated from these icing situation.

But is it perfect?

Not by any means. The hybrid icing rule has done exactly what it was supposed to do, but it still needs work. It's still a race, and it's still a call based on the judgement of the on-ice officials. Rules in any sport are rarely perfect. Balls and strikes in baseball is largely a judgement call, travelling in basketball is virtually non-existent these days, and just ask any NFL coach if he feels the ref gets every coaches challenge call correct.

The issue with judgement calls is the human element. In a game as fast as hockey, the on-ice officials are not always in a position where they can accurately judge who has reached the faceoff dot first. How do we remove the burden of judgement from the officials? Maybe it is time the league takes a stab at a full no-touch or automatic icing.

No-touch icing eliminates all doubt from the situation. As soon as the puck crosses the goal line outside of the goal crease, the play is whistled dead. NHL fans seemed cautious about installing the hybrid icing rule. The way it is setup invites calls to be missed, and although it hasn't cost anyone a game yet, given enough time we will see a blown call lead to game changing goal.

Hybrid icing didn't kill the sport, and we shouldn't expect installing a no-touch icing rule would either. European professional leagues use no-touch icing, the IIHF uses no-touch icing, and so do a few lower-tiered North American leagues like the ECHL*, CHL and SPHL. It may take a dramatic missed call before the NHL considers adjusting the rule again, and maybe it never happens. With hybrid icing you get the best of both worlds but sacrifice getting it right every time. I for one, would rather the officials get it right than worry about a judgement call on a race costing valuable regular-season points or even a playoff game.

*UPDATE: The ECHL has adopted hybrid icing for the start of the 2014-15 season.

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