BOCA RATON, Fla. - Hybrid icing and player-to-player hand passes are the rule changes with the most steam at the NHL’s winter GM meetings after Day 1 of discussions.
"It sounds like hybrid icing might be something that has a chance," said Toronto Maple Leafs GM Burke. "I put that on for five years now, so I hope that passes. We don’t want automatic icing like they have in international hockey. It looks awful. The puck gets iced and everyone stands around. It looks terrible. But the race for an icing now is too dangerous for the defenceman. I think you can keep the race in, but make it safer for the defenceman."
The rule is now used in the NCAA and the USHL where the race is to the faceoff dot and not the goal-line. The race to the goal line has resulted in horrific injuries for years.
"We keep the chase, we keep the fan interest - it’s an exciting play for our fans - but we make it safe for the defenceman. I put this on five, six years in a row I think now and I haven’t had any success. Hopefully that will change here," said Burke.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff supports the change.
"I’m a proponent of hybrid icing without even being in that breakout group," he said. "I would like to see how the implementation would go but I’m all for continuing races. The majority of the things we talked about (Monday) revolved around player safety. I’m for player safety."
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said hybrid icing was approved unanimously by the seven-GM group discussing it on Monday and expects it to carry when all 30 GMs look at it Tuesday.
"To me, it seems almost that there’s no reason it wouldn’t be supported," Bowman said. "We’ll see maybe if there’s something we’re missing when we bring it to the bigger group, but you still have a competitive race for the puck. You’re not eliminating injuries, but you’re reducing the likelihood that guys will get hurt on those plays. It seems like there’s a lot there."
The NHL currently allows player-to-player hand passes in the defensive zone but GMs want to assess a minor penalty or have the play blown down.
"We’re looking for ways to improve scoring," said Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who believes the hand pass gives defenders an easy way to kill an offensive chance.
The GMs discussed several topics in small groups on Monday and will reconvene as a whole on Tuesday to debate any possible rule changes.
Putting the redline back in, removing the trapezoid and having video review for goaltender interference were other topics on the floor but there seems to be less appetite for change in those areas.
NHL VP of player safety Brendan Shanahan also gave an update on the league’s progress in areas such as concussions and supplemental discipline.
Burke said putting the red line back in would reduce speed which is considered a huge selling feature of today’s game.
"When we did this rule change, we knew it would be a skill reduction rule. In general, I don’t think you should ever vote for a rule that reduces the skill level needed to play in the National Hockey League. I think that is just a general starting point, but we did in this case because we wanted to up the speed. I think the product we have on the ice now is as good as we’ve ever put on in the history of the league. It’s fast, it’s exciting for the fans, it’s a great broadcast product and I am not interested in the red line going back in," said Burke. "I’m not sure how the room will come out on that. I think it will be a foolish change. The game, I think, is just a wonderful product right now. I’m not interested in putting the red line back in."
The league says concussions have levelled off this year after seeing a huge spike last season.
"If you look at the concussion issue, this is a full contact sport. We are going to have concussions. We’re never going to get it to zero. The game won’t be worth watching if we get it to zero. What we want to do is take out the unnecessary ones, the senseless ones which I think Brendan Shanahan is doing a good job of doing," said Burke. "If you look at the number of concussions and the man-games lost, you say, well, it’s an epidemic. I don’t believe that. I think we are diagnosing them properly, we’re treating the injured players properly and I think that’s produced the spike in man-games lost. I don’t see an epidemic when I watch the games. I don’t feel that it’s a crushing problem. It’s something that we are ahead of in all the sports and it’s something we have to stay on top of.
"There’s only two sports where there’s no out of bounds and that’s hockey and ring sports. There’s no place on a hockey rink where you’re safe if you’ve got the puck and it’s got to stay that way. We are a full contact sport. That’s why players choose to play and an important part of our product is the amount of contact. In all the hockey all over the world, the amount of body contact in North America is distinctive. We don’t want to change that."
Cheveldayoff sat in on small group discussions focused on the trapezoid and goaltender interference.
"The small group that I was in it was a split decision as to in or out and why in and why out on the trapezoid issue," he said. "That will have a more spirited discussion tomorrow. I thing a lot of people want to see if it ties in with the red line debate. That’s a topic of discussion and that’s something I want to hear people talk about because I don’t have a firm opinion one way or the other at this time."
Cheveldayoff is not in favour of video review on goaltender interference penalties.
"The goaltender interference conversation I was in on was on whether we would go to Toronto on goaltender interference calls," he said. "We already review a lot of things in the sense of goals. We want to get the right call but having more discussion with the referees should get us to the right call. My personal opinion is we don’t review those calls."