The end of the rink will be a safer place and defensemen will no longer fear for their well-being when chasing down an icing if the NHL has its way this season.
Mike Murphy, the NHL’s senior vice-president of hockey operations, said beginning this season, referees will be cracking down seriously on opposing forwards who make contact with defensemen near the boards while trying to negate an icing call.
The league is hoping to put an end to instances such as the one last March when Kurtis Foster of the Minnesota Wild suffered a severely broken femur after being hit on an icing call by Torrey Mitchell of the San Jose Sharks.
Foster was racing Mitchell to the puck behind the Wild net when he was bumped, lost his balance and went hard into the boards. It was a sickening sight and a serious injury, one that required doctors to insert a long metal rod in Foster’s leg. Foster skated for the first time since the injury just two weeks ago and is expected to be out of the lineup until December at the earliest.
And while it will be impossible to completely eliminate such injuries, the league hopes the crackdown will significantly curtail them, without resorting to no-touch icing.
“The referees are going to bang these guys with two minutes until it stops,” Murphy said. “And if the player is hurt, even if it’s a minor cut, the guy is going to get banged with five minutes.”
Murphy said there will be no dispensation granted for intent, meaning the opposing forward will be penalized whether contact was incidental or not, whether it was intentional or not. Murphy also said even if there is not an injury, referees will have the discretion of calling hitting-from-behind, which is an automatic five-minute major and game misconduct.
“There will be no leniency on contact,” Murphy said. “It used to be no-harm, no-foul and no penalty, but the referees will call this very aggressively and early and we hope that will make it go away. What we’re trying to do is make touch icing a much safer play.”
The alternative, of course, is to resort to no-touch icing. Many of the same people who seem to have no problem with players getting hurt in fights – like, say, Don Cherry – have been calling for the league to move to no-touch icing. Forget that it would take an enormous element of excitement out of the game.
“I can show you all sorts of examples where the guy hustled down and got to the puck and it led to an exciting offensive play,” Murphy said. “No-touch icing goes against all the things you want in a hockey player – hustle, desire and speed. Unfortunately, once a year it leads to one of these egregious fouls that makes everyone sick.”
That won’t be the only change in the rules regarding icing, although the other one will be subtler. Until this season, the league had mandated television timeouts during the first stoppages in play following the six-, 10- and 14-minute marks. That meant when a team iced the puck and could not change its players, it got the benefit of resting during the TV timeout. That will no longer happen: TV timeouts will no longer occur after an icing, a goal or during power plays.
“We’ve talked to a lot of coaches and this was a very big thing for them in terms of being a factor in line changes and changing their fourth-line guys,” Murphy said. “It kind of defeated the purpose of not allowing a line change on the icing and the timeout was taking away the advantage that was gained by the other team.”
There will also be two other subtle changes for this season. First, when a shot hits the post or crossbar and ricochets out of play, the ensuing faceoff will be deep in the defending team’s zone and not in the neutral zone, as it used to be. Like the icing play, it’s meant to create more offensive situations.
“It’s a good offensive play when that happens, so why penalize it?” Murphy said.
Also, when a player commits an infraction resulting in a penalty, the ensuing faceoff will take place deep in the offending team’s end regardless of where the infraction occurred on the ice. That means if a player makes a lazy hook in the offensive zone, he’ll not only be penalized, but his team will be forced to start the penalty kill with a faceoff in its own end.
Good on the NHL for making these moves. Now if it could just do something tangible about goaltending equipment.
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