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Hybrid icing leaves too much gray area

The idea behind hybrid icing is a noble one. The NHL wanted to find a way to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the risk of injuries resulting from a race for the puck on a potential icing call. However, in doing that, the NHL has created a problem that is causing a whole lot of confusion for both players and officials.

What is hybrid icing? That’s a good question. By definition, the linesman is supposed to blow the play dead if the defending player is in the lead or tied in the race to the puck by the time they reach the faceoff dots in their own end. If the attacking player is in the lead, the linesman is supposed to wave off icing.

This was an idea from the NHL that was approved by the NHLPA to be implemented this season. However, hockey is a fast game. It’s very hard to make those judgment calls right on the spot, and that has led to a lot of confusion for the players.

“It’s a little difficult though because a lot of times when you’re tied going in for the puck, a lot of times they’ll blow it off. That’s kind of what we were trying to eliminate so personally for me I’d probably rather just have a no-touch icing or the other way,” said Predators defenseman Kevin Klein.

“It’s a change that I think we’re still getting used to,” said Predators captain Shea Weber. “There’s those in between pucks that get blown down or pucks that they don’t think make the line. It’s tough, but it’s just an adjustment we’re going to have to get used to.”

It’s not just confusing for the players. The officials are being asked to make a judgment call about a race to the puck when neither player is touching the puck. They’re basically racing to the faceoff dot. It puts the referees in a tough position to try and make the right call when two players racing for the puck are right next to each other at the dot.

“It’s tough,” said Predators forward Patric Hornqvist. “It’s tough for the refs because they have to make a decision. They have to make a read and all that. I think the old rule is a little more clear when you see who is first to the puck.”

This issue of hybrid icing is something that has popped up in three straight games for the Predators. There have been three hybrid icing calls in the last three games where it looked like the Predators might have been able to win the race first. Two of those came at the expense of Hornqvist. And there have been other instances where similar plays have been waved off by the linesman. It’s causing a lot of confusion for the players because they can’t get a definite read on when a play is going to be blown dead and when it’s going to be waved off, or even what part of the equipment constitutes winning the race to the dot.

“One game the puck crossed the dot, and they blew it down because the defenseman was back first, and then another time the same thing happened but the puck hit the corner and then crossed the red line and they waved it off. I don’t understand. It’s still cloudy I think,” Klein said.

“Who’s going to win the race to the top of the circle? Is it his stick that counts, or his chest or his skate? They have to think about a lot of things there so that’s why we get some questionable calls once in a while,” Hornqvist said after Tuesday night’s loss to Chicago where a hybrid icing call went against him and left him livid.

Hornqvist said the ref talked to him after and apologized for the call. That illustrates exactly what is wrong with hybrid icing. It’s not the fault of the referees. The rule itself is so murky and left up for discretion that it’s very hard for the officials to determine in live action what the right call should be.

“This is a lot of interpretation for the refs,” Klein said. “It’s guesswork because you’re flying in there so fast and you’re unsure. You don’t have that certainty. I don’t know what they’re going to do in the future, but it’d be nice if they went one way or another I think.”

Hybrid icing seems to be just a short-term solution to a problem that could be fixed immediately. The old way of icing was a problem as far as injuries are concerned, but there wasn’t much of a gray area. It was whoever got to the puck first and touched it. If it was the defending player, it was icing. If it was the attacking player, icing was waved off. It was pretty much black and white. Hybrid icing is anything but black and white.

“I think it’s too much of a gray area,” Hornqvist said. “The refs have to make so many decisions in so short of a time so I like the other rule better.”

“It’s definitely more clear if it’s one way or the other,” Weber said. “Right now there’s a lot of discretion, but everyone’s trying to do the best they can. It’s new to not only the players, but the linesmen. Everyone’s trying to do the best they can, there’s just a lot of gray area.”

Obviously, trying to avoid unnecessary collisions due to a race for the puck is something the NHL is trying to avoid and should be trying to avoid. However, there’s a much simpler way to go about doing that. Hybrid icing creates a huge gray area for everyone involved. In order to eliminate that gray area, simply implement no-touch icing. That way there is no race for the puck, and there’s no gray area. If the puck is iced from behind center ice and goes over the red line at the other end, it’s icing. Period.

No-touch icing is used in international play and is used in some of the lower level leagues like the OHL. It’s something the NHL should seriously consider adopting because it would eliminate the gray area that hybrid icing has caused so far this season.

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