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Taylor Fedun ranks as the latest victim of NHL’s archaic icing rules

Sep 30, 2011, 10:31 PM EDT

Jordan Eberle, Taylor Fedun AP

New head of discipline Brendan Shanahan faces some tough issues when it comes to revamping the NHL’s suspension systems. One of the most difficult questions to answer is: “How do you make the game safer without eliminating a necessary physical element from defensive play?”

Brendan Smith’s hit on Ben Smith earned a deserved punishment, but it at least falls under the category of normal hockey checks gone wrong. To some extent, there’s only so much the league can do unless they want the game to turn into flag football on ice.

That being said, the sport needs to give a good, long look at measures that would eliminate unnecessary risks. The clearest area is in the way the NHL officiates icing. Kurtis Foster is among the players who suffered from one of the most dangerous collisions in the sport: when an opposing player (usually a forechecking or “crashing” forward) delivers a bit hit on another player (typically a defenseman) who is about to touch the puck to earn an icing whistle.

From the looks of things, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Taylor Fedun (pictured on the left) is the latest victim of the league’s touch icing policy. Fedun was carted off on a stretcher during tonight’s preseason game against the Minnesota Wild after his skates got tangled up in Eric Nystrom‘s stick, forcing Fedun to hit the boards in an awkward way. Nystrom was attempting to cancel out an icing call on the play; he received a five-minute major for boarding and game misconduct, which means he might be Shanahan’s latest disciplinary case.

Update: Fedun suffered a broken right leg from that fall, according to The Associated Press. Oilers head coach Tom Renney described it as a “complex fracture” and hinted that Fedun will be out for the season, but that’s far from an official confirmation.

There are three basic schools of though on icing calls. The first one wants the rule to stay the same, pointing out the occasionally thrilling chase for the puck. The second group would prefer “hybrid icing” which would give officials leeway to decide if a puck pursuit is merited or if the play should be whistled dead. Finally, there’s a growing legion of people who want the league to follow other levels of hockey by instituting “no-touch icing.” (Don Cherry ranks as one of that group’s most prominent members.)

Personally, I’d prefer the league to experiment with hybrid icing. If it works out well, keep it that way. If the subjectivity causes almost as many bad collisions or controversial calls, then go all the way to the no-touch rule.

Either way, the current icing setup is inching its way toward becoming an archaic – some might even ague primitive – rule. The NHL is making a lot of steps in the right direction, which just makes it that much more baffling that they’re not being more progressive with an unnecessarily dangerous part of the game that rarely ranks as anything more than a tedious, time-wasting procedure.

  1. bigbear42 - Oct 1, 2011 at 6:27 AM

    Its amazing that every year the NHL tweaks its rules every year for player safety yet they always overlook this one. I would be willing to bet that this rule causes more injuries, penalties and fights than it does goals.

  2. polegojim - Oct 1, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    Well said James and bigbear, so easy to correct.

  3. ballistictrajectory - Oct 1, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    I believe the solution to the problem is to review the reason the icing rule exists in the first place and then consturct some alternate way to dealing with that aspect of the game that brought forth the icing rule.

    I’ll assume that icing is a holdover from the very early years of hockey and served as a penalty against a team that tried to shoot the puck into empty areas of the ice to slow down progress of their opponent. Let’s say a team having a small lead in the 3rd period against a stronger team might use icing to disrupt the stronger team’s attack, potentially giving them the edge to win with their small lead.
    As an aside, the pace of the game and the fatigue factor on the players chasing the iced puck are issues here as well.

    Following that logic, icing is a de-facto delay of game. Since shorthanded teams are allowed to ice the puck to kill penalties that delay of game aspect is more or less reinforced. The league has implemented several rules to deal with “delay of the game” from the perspective of shooting the puck into the crowd, or the goalie covering it up when no attack is in progress, etc. Why not do something similar for icing?

    The biggest risk to success for any alternative rule is discretionary rulings. It must either be a violation or not and there’s no dependence on an official who might view the same instance differently, depending to how congested the traffic was getting to the rink that day.

    Given that the league and its management are generally a bunch of pretty smart folk it should not take a whole lot of brain power to figure this out and be done with it. The tactic is usefull to the game during shorthanded situations in that the PK can make an opportunity to change lines and it forces the PP to play it’s best. It is not useful to the game when players go down with injuries (accidental or deliberate aside) trying to make an exciting play.

    I love watching two players skate as hard as possible to catch the puck, one bent on scoring and the other trying to prevent it. It’s a great spectacle to watch, but let’s be real, it doesn’t happen all that often, any more. Maybe 4 or 5 times per season per team. What’s the metric on icings versus player injuries?

    So, even strength play and the puck is iced, two minutes for delay of game. No touch rule in effect. That transfers the focus from arriving at the puck against the boards to beating the puck to the goal line, giving a small measure of distance in the event of a collision. Yes, the are accidental icings, and yes there are accidental cases of shooting the puck into the stands. No difference. Now if players are racing for the puck they have to be near enough to it to actually gain control before the goal line or the whistle stops play. There’s no judgement call on the part of the officials as to who might be leading in the race at the face-off dot. There’s a clearly difficult physical task for players to meet the condition of arrivng at the puck before the goal line and THAT will lead to the reduction in injuries.

    Will this stop ALL instances of players being injured this way? No. It should decrease the instances of it. The side benefit would be that the two or three seconds off the clock would not be wasted.

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