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NHL GMs shelved no-touch icing last month but it may be talked about again

A month ago the subject of no-touch icing was shelved by the NHL's 30 GMs at their annual three-day meeting in Naples, Fla.

Now it could possibly return to the table - despite an agreement by GMs to not talk about it again for three years.

"An injury like the one that Kurtis Foster suffered would certainly bring attention to the issue once again with the general managers," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's executive vice-president and director of hockey operations.

"A balance has to be struck when it comes to the competitive aspect of the game along with the flow and player safety."

The gruesome injury sustained by the Minnesota Wild defenceman last Thursday night has reignited the debate on no-touch icing and it doesn't appear to be going away any time soon.

The NHL Players' Association, for one, intends to pursue it this summer through its members on the competition committee (a rules group made up of players and GMs).

"I favour the no-touch icing rule, as do a majority of our players," NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly said Tuesday. "This position is grounded in serious safety concerns about precisely the type of high speed collision that led to the unfortunate injury to Kurtis Foster. The NHLPA has advocated for the adoption of the no-touch icing rule for many years. We intend to raise the issue again via the competition committee at the end of the season."

Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough has routinely voted against changing the icing rule but now is obviously re-examining his stance given the injury suffered by one of his players.

"I was not in favour of making a change. How do I feel today after Kurtis' injury? I feel that it's time to look at it," Risebrough told The Canadian Press. "Not because I feel any different about the dynamic of what the icing does. But clearly there's a tactic now where there's more deliberate contact being made.

"Before, it was a race to the puck, both guys were reaching and trying to stretch with their sticks to try and touch the puck. The type of contact that's going on now, I think you have to look at it."

The GMs have looked at it repeatedly over the years but always came to a similar conclusion - that no-touch icing breaks the flow of the game with too many whistles, which is what they feel one sees in international hockey where no-touch icing is the rule. The majority of the NHL GMs also believe the race for the puck on icing plays is an entertaining and valuable part of the game.

And Risebrough was very much on board with that thinking, but the Foster injury has opened his eyes to what he believes is a dangerous trend on icing plays - guys looking for the hit instead of trying to reach out for the puck.

"I was OK with the rule with the way it was, that if they were both chasing for the puck and they were both stretched out trying to touch the puck, I don't think I would change my position on that," said Risebrough. "Where I do change my position now is there seems to be intended contact - that was not what we were thinking about when we said let's not talk about this for three years."

While Risebrough doesn't think Torrey Mitchell wanted to deliberately injure Foster on the play, he believes it's clear the San Jose Sharks forward was intending to hit the Wild defenceman and was not chasing the puck.

"If contact is going to creep more into it, it probably will increase the chances of it happening more often," said Risebrough. "So eliminate the contact. And I guess if you want to eliminate for sure any other potential injuries as best you can, then go to the imaginary (icing) line. And this is coming from a GM who voted to leave it the way it was. But I am concerned about the contact."

The imaginary icing line is a concept that's been bounced around. The most popular one would see an imaginary line across the faceoff dots. If the defensive player crosses that line first, it's icing. If it's the forechecker, then he's beat the icing and the play continues. This is a compromise position from the European no-touch icing.

"The race would go to the line and the official would make the judgement," said Risebrough.

No-touch icing came closest to seeing the light of day four years ago at a GMs meeting in Henderson, Nev. This is the same meeting where many of the post-lockout rule changes were born. The removal of the red-line, smaller goalie equipment, restricting goalies from playing the puck in certain areas, the shootout - these all got their wings at the meeting near the Vegas strip. But what many forget from that February 2004 meeting was that no-touch icing was also on a list of recommendations for GMs to at least seriously look at.

The AHL, for one, seemed convinced enough by what it heard from the Henderson GMs meeting that it adopted no-touch icing for the 2004-05 season. NHL GMs spent plenty of time in AHL rinks that season because of the NHL lockout. And they didn't like what they saw.

"They hated the no-touch in the AHL that year," said an NHL source.

"I would say it was a mixed reaction among our coaches and our people," said AHL president Dave Andrews.

The NHL's 30 GMs lost their enthusiasm for it and no-touch icing didn't make the cut when the league came out of the lockout with a list of changes to the game. The AHL subsequently dropped it as well, not wanting its players to play by different rules.

Now the issue has resurfaced with the Foster injury and perhaps change will finally come. Perhaps.


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