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'Game great the way it is'

Jets players OK with safety changes -- if the sport doesn't suffer

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One by one, Winnipeg Jets players stepped in front of the cameras to be grilled by the media about the potential rule changes being tossed about by NHL bosses in Florida.


Hybrid icing... a rule against hand passes in the defensive zone... the possible re-introduction of the red-line... the discussion of the elimination of the trapezoid that stops goaltenders from drifting into the corners to play the puck...

Serious stuff, to be sure, especially as it relates to player safety.

But the timing of such a discussion -- especially with the Jets in a dogfight for a playoff spot -- seemed a bit odd and the debate far too technical at a time where this crew is fixated on the here and now, not possible changes that wouldn't come into effect until next October.

Leave it to Blake Wheeler, then, to lighten the discussion a tad.

Asked what he would change if he were commissioner, he offered this without a nanosecond of hesitation:

"Make the nets bigger, goalie pads smaller, everyone makes the playoffs and no salary cap."

But seriously, folks...

"I think the game is great the way it is," Wheeler said with a shrug. "They are obviously talking about certain things and hopefully whatever they do is for the betterment of the game, but I think the way it's played right now is pretty good."

And therein lies the great dilemma for the NHL. Obviously, any changes to the game that can help eliminate serious injury are worthy of discussion.

But the question is, how much is potentially too much?

"I like the game the way it is," began Jets coach Claude Noel. "If you put the red-line back in, for example, and start creating two-line passes... the problem is coaches study and we're going to end up clogging this thing up and bringing it to a grinding halt. That's what happened before. Then people blame the coaches.

"(Assistant coach) Charlie Huddy had a good point... It's almost like they need to revert back to the equipment they had 15 years ago where you don't have the hard plastic pads, elbow pads, and all those things. The equipment we're using has really evolved a lot. It's dangerous.

"When I played, we had catalogues for shin pads."

And so as the discussion on rule changes was tossed about Tuesday -- some Jets, for example, were in favour of hybrid/no-touch icing while others liked the rule the way it currently is -- centre Bryan Little offered up an insightful take on the proposed alterations.

"I like the game the way it is," he said. "They're being cautious about the safety of the players, which I like. But I'm not for major rule changes or changing too much.

"This is the game I grew up with. I don't want to be going out there playing a different game with different rules after being in the league for a few years now." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Know the rules


NHL's GMs are working on two potential rule changes, hybrid icing which could be used in the NHL next season and a ringette line to be tested in the AHL next year:


Hybrid Icing: This rule is already used by the NCAA and USHL The NHL plans to study this rule and alter it to fit its game:

"For the purpose of interpretation of this rule, 'Icing the Puck' is completed the instant the puck crosses the goal-line, unless an attacking player, who is onside at the blue-line and with no opponent between him and the goal-line and who is clearly in a position to be the first player to touch the puck, icing shall not be called. This decision by the Official shall be made no later than the first player reaching the end zone faceoff dots. If the puck enters the goal in this situation "icing" shall not be called and a goal shall be awarded."


Ringette line: The ringette line prohibits a team from making a two-line pass -- or a pass across the centre line -- until it crosses the ringette line in its own end.

The line would be painted at the top of the face-off circles in both ends. The GMs believe the line would encourage more forechecking. AHL president Dave Andrews was at the GMs' meetings on Tuesday and doesn't believe there will be opposition from his league to test the ringette lines next season.

"If this group of NHL GMs think this is worth trying, then I don't have a problem with it and I don't think there will be a problem trying it," said Andrews.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2012 C3

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