<
>
Insider

Hybrid icing will be on the table

10/4/2011
The NHL's icing rule is a hot topic, as reckless injuries mount from players pursuing the puck. Dave Reginek/NHLI/Getty Images

The debate has been raging since the weekend, when 23-year-old defenseman Taylor Fedun went crashing into the boards in a mixup with Eric Nystrom following a race to the puck. Fedun fractured his fibula, like Kurtis Foster did in 2008, because of the NHL's icing rule.

The play was another reminder that head shots aren't the only dangerous play in the NHL, and it rightly raised calls for implementation of hybrid icing.

It's not just the fans and media. According to one NHL GM, changing the icing rule will be on the agenda at the November GM's meeting. "I guarantee it," he said.

The problem is, a guaranteed spot on the agenda doesn't guarantee change.

"It seems to come up every year at some point," another GM wrote in an email.

Now, the NHL general managers have a chance to end the annual debate. It might also be time to invite Scott Brand, the USHL's referee-in-chief, to the meeting. About six years ago, Brand was faced with a similar issue in the USHL when he was the director of hockey operations. He was an old-school hockey guy with no desire to get rid of touch-up icing, but the league's commissioner flat-out told him that he was going to lose that fight. No-touch icing was on the way if he didn't think of something better.

It was Brand who came up with the hybrid icing used by the USHL and now in college hockey.

"What we're doing is trying to reward speed and also keep that lazy defenseman from watching and standing at the blue line and watching the puck go past him," he said. "Keep the hustle in the game and reward speed. How do we do this? We experimented."

The NHL could benefit from the USHL's experimentation. The USHL's attainable hybrid icing rule has the official determine who would have touched the puck first, and it's a decision made by the faceoff dot. If it's too close to call, it's icing. A simple way to look at it is a race to the faceoff dot, which is considerably safer than a race into the boards. Like any rules change, there was some opposition, but that has long since disappeared.

"There hasn't been any call to get rid of it; there hasn't been any call to go back to touch icing," Brand said.

There isn't much appetite among NHL general managers to implement no-touch icing, but when the league tested the hybrid icing at its research and development camp this summer in Toronto, hybrid icing was embraced.

"There certainly seems to be some momentum for the hybrid icing," Phoenix Coyotes GM Don Maloney said.

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke came out even stronger: "The rule that I have said for years we should go to is hybrid icing."

Following another scary incident, it seems inevitable. If a play like the one that has put Fedun's career in jeopardy could be eliminated without altering the way the game is played, it should be a no-brainer. It's hard to find players who disagree, especially since it's their careers on the line.

"It's a very dangerous spot on the ice," Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal said. "Little things can set off major things. We have to figure out a way that's fair to the rules and fair to the players out there."

Suter's price on the rise

Fans in Los Angeles weren't the only ones watching the Drew Doughty negotiations closely. Neil Sheehy represents Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter, and he is currently in the middle of talks with the Predators about a contract extension for Suter, one of the game's best young defensemen. It's not exactly the same situation as Doughty since the Los Angeles Kings were negotiating Doughty's second contract and Suter is now just nine months away from unrestricted free agency, but there are certainly comparisons.

"Whenever you're talking about elite players and elite contracts, those [contract] comparisons certainly come out," Sheehy said. "If you're talking about arbitration, a Drew Doughty deal would have nothing to do with Ryan Suter. But you're not talking about arbitration."

Doughty got a deal worth $7 million per season, and that follows an arbitration decision this summer that awarded Shea Weber $7.5 million. If you're looking for an idea of how much Suter is worth, that's a pretty good ballpark. The Suter camp certainly doesn't think he's any less of a defenseman than his teammate and good friend in Nashville. If Suter reaches free agency, he'll still be just 27 years old, and it's not often that a 27-year-old franchise defenseman hits the market.

Sheehy was in Nashville last week talking contract with Predators GM David Poile and will plan a return trip at some point. He said the talks remain positive.

"He's made it clear he wants to sign Ryan, and it's important for David personally and professionally with the Nashville Predators to get Ryan signed," said Sheehy, who played for Poile in Washington. "We discussed many different topics. I have to get back to David, and I'm going to be looking at some different models and going over things with Ryan. We will have further discussions."

Notes

• Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera honors Pat Tillman with his incredible new goalie mask. It's a great tribute and really well-done.

• Speaking of icing, good to see Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson on Twitter (@coachrw63). His first official comment was on hybrid icing; he wrote: "Need hybrid icing rule change! Have seen too many horrific injuries!" That may be the extent of his hockey talk, according to a story in the Toronto Sun. Wilson said he'll be more inclined to write about his grandkids and his favorite show, "Dexter." Another good addition to the world of Twitter has been Evgeni Malkin (@malkin71_) whose personality has really emerged. I asked him if he's enjoyed his time so far on Twitter. "Yeah," he said. "It's fun."

• Checked in with Brandon Saad yesterday, and he said his agent is still working on an entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks but it looks like he's got a spot in the NHL to start the season. It's an incredible accomplishment for a player selected in the second round in June's draft, but it's not entirely surprising. He was a player many scouts liked as a first-round pick, and one year ago he was considered a player who could go high in the first round. But he played through injuries last year and slid to the No. 43 pick. Give Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman -- who just got a three-year contract extension -- and director of scouting Mark Kelley credit for pouncing on Saad at that point in the draft. There could be a big payoff coming for Chicago.