BOSTON – Hybrid icing could be on its way to the NHL.
The league’s general managers met Wednesday and embraced many of the changes recommended by the competition committee, including hybrid icing and the mandatory use of visors for all players entering the league.
A blend of touch and no-touch icing that offers referees the discretion to blow a play dead will be in effect during the 2013-14 preseason. If the experiment is successful, hybrid icing will be implemented for the regular season, pending a vote by the NHL’s board of governors.
Mathieu Schneider, a former defenceman who is now a special assistant to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, said both sides should have a better gauge by the end of the preseason whether hybrid icing is likely to pass.
“I’m optimistic,” Schneider said. “I’ve learned more through these meetings, watching videos and getting a better understanding.”
The rule is designed to promote safer play, allowing a linesman to blow his whistle if he judges a defending player is likely to reach the puck first.
“There’s different types of the hybrid icing that have been used in different leagues, so we’re still going to hammer some of those details out,” Schneider said. “But essentially it’s meant to eliminate guys going full speed into the end boards.
“If it makes the game safer, it’s a great thing.”
Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said he and his colleagues haven’t come to a consensus on the issue.
“The players in the American (Hockey) League have a good feel for it. Now the NHLers need to get a feel for it,” he said. “I’ve seen it work in every league that uses it and it works seamlessly.”
The biggest obstacle to implementation may be how it will be officiated.
“There has to be an outright win,” Schneider said. “If it’s clear that the forward is going to win the race for the puck, if there’s a dangerous situation, then the ref has the ability to blow it down.”
Hall of Famer and Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said very few general managers, if any, favour no-touch icing, leaving the hybrid version as the best option.
“Not that there’s many injuries on the icing now, but the injuries that are there are very severe, and we’d like to try the hybrid icing as a good compromise,” he said. “I’m hopeful that the preseason gives it enough time for the players to vote in support of it.”
The general managers also approved the mandatory use of visors for every player entering the league. Players who have played in a certain amount of NHL games will be grandfathered in, allowed to decide if they want to don a protective shield.
The topic was fueled when New York Rangers defenceman Marc Staal was hit in the eye with a puck on March 5, causing him to miss the remainder of the regular season and all but one of the Rangers’ playoff games.
Yzerman, who wore a visor during his final season, thinks every player should have to wear one.
“We’ve seen some serious eye injuries along the way here and injuries that can be avoided by simply a player wearing a shield,” he said. “Being a manager of a team and wanting your players on the ice for every possible game, and avoiding every injury that could possibly be avoided, I’m in support of our guys wearing them.”
Eventually every player will be wearing one, according to NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell.
“We’re going to end up with all players wearing visors,” he said, “which is a good thing.”
Also approved Wednesday was the use of shallower nets and video review on four-minute high-sticking penalties. Both will be introduced next season if approved by the board.