Hybrid icing finds strong support at NHL GM meetings; red line reinstallation stalls

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Of all the ideas related to player safety in the NHL discussed at the GM meetings, the one with the best chance of becoming reality is hybrid icing.

It has gained support in recent years. It was tested at the league's research and development camp in Toronto the past two years. And when the league's general managers broke into small groups Monday at their annual meeting, it had unanimous support among the seven GMs who discussed it, according to the Chicago Blackhawks' Stan Bowman.

All 30 GMs will discuss it Tuesday. If it has enough support among the whole group, the GMs will recommended it to the competition committee. It would have to go from there to the league's board of governors for approval.

"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."

Under the current icing rule, players race for the puck all the way to the end boards, leading to collisions and potentially catastrophic injuries. Under the hybrid icing rule, players would race to an imaginary line at the faceoff dots. If the defensive player wins, the play is blown dead. If the offensive player wins, the play stays alive.

"There's still going to be plays that the offensive player's going to be first to cross the line, the defenseman right on him," said Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford.

"They're still going to get along the boards, and there's going to be some pretty good hits there. But I do think that if you bring that imaginary line out further and somebody loses an edge or something, he has a chance to at least correct it before he gets to the boards and gets hurt."

The GMs who discussed hybrid icing Monday were Bowman, Rutherford, the Florida Panthers' Dale Tallon, Montreal Canadiens' Pierre Gauthier, Minnesota Wild's Chuck Fletcher, New York Islanders' Garth Snow and Vancouver Canucks' Mike Gillis.

"We might leave it as it is, because the players have really done a nice job of avoiding contact as much as possible," Tallon said. "But there still have been some injuries. You're never going to legislate totally on the injuries, but I think the hybrid icing is fine. It's got a chase involved, and it still keeps the integrity of the game.

"Our group was really positive on it, so we'll have to see what the rest of the guys have to say about it as we move forward."

The GMs discussed several other ideas Monday at the posh Boca Beach Club, including:

Outlawing hand passes in the defensive zone

This one's pretty simple, though whether an infraction would result in a faceoff or two-minute penalty is still being discussed.

"Looking for ways to improve scoring," Tallon said.

Re-instituting the red line to outlaw two-line passes.

Some GMs came to the meeting in favor of the idea, thinking the game had become too fast and too simple, with teams firing the puck through the neutral zone and simply tipping it into the offensive end. Their thinking is that reinstituting the red line would slow down the game or add skill through the neutral zone.

But there wasn't much support among the small group that discussed it, according to the Detroit Red Wings' Ken Holland. The worry is that teams will start trapping in the neutral zone the way they used to or just find another way to adjust.

"I think pretty well everybody in our group agrees that they like it the way it us," Holland said. "We can change the rules, but we're going to have another set of circumstances five years from now and four years from now. That's the problem."

Allowing players to bear hug opponents along the boards.

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke keeps putting this on the agenda. His thinking is that if a player can bear hug his opponent, it will reduce dangerous hits from behind. But other GMs think it would be a slippery slope.

"I think that it's safe to say that it didn't get a lot of steam again this year," said Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. "In my opinion, it just opens up more room for judgment from the referee and may bring holding back into play, which is something we don't want."