Over the Boards: Gray area exists with hybrid icing
Wednesday, 09.25.2013 / 6:00 AM
The regular season begins in less than a week and it's still too difficult to get a consensus for how the players feel about hybrid icing and if it will be used this season.
"It's not one way or the other right now," San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle told NHL.com. "It's kind of all over the place."
Hybrid icing is currently being tested in the preseason, but the players have to give their approval in order for it to be used in the regular season, which begins Tuesday.
The National Hockey League Players' Association has begun conducting a player survey on hybrid icing. The NHLPA's executive board is expected to review the results and let the NHL know of its decision before the start of the regular season.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this week that "the vast majority" of the League's general managers are still in favor of hybrid icing after watching it play out in the preseason.
However, predicting if it will be adopted for the regular season is almost impossible right now.
"Still gray," Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal told NHL.com. "To guess, I would say yes [it would pass]."
Some of the players are leaning toward a yes vote because of the safety element to the hybrid-icing system.
In hybrid icing, the linesman blows the play dead and calls icing immediately if the defending player is leading or tied in the race to the faceoff dots in his defensive zone. The object is to try at all costs to avoid the nasty collisions into the end boards that have led to serious injuries to a number of NHL players, including Kurtis Foster and most recently Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who will miss the entire 2013-14 season.
If the attacking player is leading the race for the puck, the linesman allows the chase for the puck to continue as is the case in the touch-icing system the NHL has been using since 1937.
"I don't think it will take long to adapt," Nashville Predators center Matt Cullen told NHL.com. "And it's worth it if we can avoid some of these needless injuries."
NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom isn't concerned about the linesmen adjusting if the players vote yes on hybrid icing.
"I think for our guys, they'll be able to handle it easily," Walkom told NHL.com. "They have to think about two things: player safety and the race for the puck. There is no attainable pass anymore, so they don't have to worry about that.
"When the puck leaves they have to focus on offside, which will be a rarity when the puck is shot from behind the red line. And [with hybrid icing] they won't have to skate as far into the end to make their decision. Before they would have to pursue the puck to the end to make sure who touched it, but now they have to skate less distance and make a judgment quicker."
A concern among the players opposed to hybrid icing is that the judgment call from the linesman has to be made too quickly, leaving room for doubt when they're going at full speed.
"Too much hesitation," Buffalo Sabres right wing Steve Ott told NHL.com.
"I just find that there's too big of a gray area when you're going back," Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf told NHL.com. "It has nothing to do with the linesmen calling it because it's new to everyone, but from my opinion I like the old way of doing it."
Staal said one way for the players to combat the hesitation and work through the gray area is to simply play out the race as they would in touch-icing, but keeping in mind they can slow down or stop altogether if they hear the whistle.
"I think it's better than the full-on race," Staal said. "Just will end up with more arguments with the linesmen."
New York Islanders assistant coach Doug Weight worries that hybrid icing can make the attacking forward who is racing for the puck to negate icing just as vulnerable as the defenseman is in touch-icing.
"If our forward beats the D-man to the dot it still becomes a full speed sprint to the boards with the D-man able to line up the forward," Weight told NHL.com.
Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins learned to like the hybrid icing system when it was being tested in the American Hockey League last season. He told NHL.com that the key for the linsemen is "they have to be moving their feet to try to keep up with these speedsters."
Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates, who also watched hybrid icing get tested in the AHL last season, said he thought the rule was "great once the referees got a little bit used to it.
"The defensemen still have to skate but the decision is made earlier," Oates said. "I thought it was an excellent rule."
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock simply told NHL.com, "Love it," when he was asked about hybrid icing. Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman responded by saying, "Players seem to like it, so I'm OK with it."
It's still unclear how many players like hybrid icing and if enough are OK with making it part of the game.
"Our NHLPA rep was asking guys [Monday] their thoughts on it," Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise told NHL.com, "and everyone was impartial."
Serving the game in a different capacity
Walkom is like every official in that his preference is to be on the ice rather than in an office. However, he's also like every official in that he's content serving the game in any capacity.
Walkom is doing that this season as the League's Director of Officiating, a job he previously held from 2005-09. Terry Gregson, who took over for Walkom in 2009, announced his retirement at the end of last season and the NHL asked Walkom to return to his old position.
"We serve the game as officials," Walkom told NHL.com. "We don't score goals. We don't get assists. We don't get great hits unless it's unintentional. And we don't like to get in the way, obviously. But we serve the game and the best place to serve the game to a man, everyone will tell you, is on the ice. However, if you're on the ice or off the ice in a job managing the officials, being involved in hockey at the highest level with the best officials in the world on a daily basis and getting to lead them is something that is a great opportunity for anybody."
Phaneuf impressed with the kid
Morgan Rielly, the Maple Leafs' 19-year-old defenseman, has found a big fan in training camp. It's the captain of the team.
"I think Morgan has had a real good camp," Phaneuf told NHL.com. "He plays beyond his years. He skates so well and he sees the ice well. The biggest thing I've noticed is how he passes the puck. He passes the puck at a NHL level and that's a tough thing to do coming out of junior because it's a different pace in junior to the National Hockey League level. He finds a way to make passes that not a lot of kids out of junior make."
The Maple Leafs haven't decided if Rielly, their first-round pick in 2012 (No. 5), will start the season in the NHL or if he'll be returned to Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League. His age prevents him from starting the season in the American Hockey League.
There's an opening for Rielly in Toronto if Cody Franson does not sign soon.
Alzner's take on the Metropolitan Division
Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner only knows the old Southeast Division, and judging by comments he made both at the Canadian Olympic orientation camp and earlier in training camp, he didn't think it provided a stiff enough challenge for his team.
Alzner doesn't anticipate having a similar feeling about the Metropolitan Division this season. The Capitals are in it with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets.
"It's going to be a huge change, very tough for us, but at the same time maybe [it will] keep us a little more prepared and know what to expect coming into playoffs," Alzner said. "I think it's going to keep the team really honest for 82 games."
The Capitals won the Southeast Division five out of the past six seasons. They were 2-8-1 to start last season and still were able to make up enough ground to with the division title.
This and that
* Was it smart for Rangers general manager Glen Sather to use words like "fool" and statements such as "I hope he gets wiser" and "he has to start smelling the roses" when detailing the contract negotiations with restricted free agent center Derek Stepan during MSG Network's telecast of New York's preseason game against the Calgary Flames on Monday?
We'll find out soon enough, but it certainly appears that Sather was trying to bypass Stepan's agent, Matt Oates, and send the 23-year-old center a direct message through the media. Now Sather and the Rangers have to hope that the comments didn't anger Stepan and Oates enough for them to start seriously seeking out an offer sheet from other teams.
While offer sheets are rare, it makes sense for a general manager with cap space and some money left in his internal budget to make the pitch to Stepan. If the offer sheet is lucrative enough it could potentially be damaging to the Rangers, who already would have to make a corresponding transaction or two in order to be cap compliant if Stepan accepts their current contract offer, reportedly for two years and $6 million.
The Rangers are already starting the season without Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin. They've got a little over a week to make sure they don't start the season without Stepan too.
* It was important for Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to see what Brandon Saad can do at center this preseason because it showed him that Saad is more comfortable on the wing. With that experiment over, Quenneville has to give Brandon Pirri every opportunity to win that second-line center job.
Pirri is a natural center, the AHL's leading scorer last season, and he deserves his chance. He was injured for the first half of the preseason, but it shouldn't cost him an opportunity to be the Blackhawks' answer on the second line. He has less than a week and just one preseason game to impress or Quenneville will turn to Michal Handzus, who was effective skating between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa in the playoffs last season.
Handzus is not a long-term solution on the second line. Pirri could be.
* Darren Helm (groin, back) started skating with the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, but he's probably going to start the season on long-term injured reserve to give the Red Wings some salary-cap flexibility. His $2.1 million cap hit would not count if he's on LTIR. He would have to be on LTIR for at least 10 games and 24 days.
Patrick Eaves (leg), Jordin Tootoo (shoulder) and Jonas Gustavsson could all start the season on IR or LTIR.
* The St. Louis Blues and Brenden Morrow seem like a perfect match.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong deserves credit for waiting it out and evaluating his team through four preseason games before signing Morrow on Monday to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Morrow deserves credit for understanding his predicament with the salary cap shrinking nearly $6 million from last season and going to a team with enough depth to make sure he can be put in a spot to succeed.
Morrow is 34 years old and he hasn't reached 1,000 games yet. He's not close to being done as a player, but the Blues found him in the bargain bin and were able to give a hungry player a chance to play for a multiyear contract next season.