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NHL GMs want ringette line to reduce lazy offense, hybrid icing with tweaks

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BOCA RATON , Fla. -- OK, it needs a better name. But "for lack of a better term," as NHL exec Colin Campbell put it Tuesday, the ringette line intrigues the general managers enough that they want to try it in the American Hockey League next season.

The line comes from the game of ringette. It would run across the tops of the face-off circles. When coming out of the defensive zone, teams would have to advance the puck to the line before they could pass it to the far blue line.

It's a compromise between leaving the game as it is and re-instituting the red line to outlaw two-line passes. In theory, it would still allow for a stretch pass, but it would keep teams from firing the puck from deep in their end to the far blue line and simply tipping it to avoid icing.

It would add skill and encourage forechecking. Again, in theory.

"Now, we have to see how it plays out, because coaches are good at exploiting these things and maybe it's not going to happen," said Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman. "But the concept is, make the guys do something with it as opposed to get behind the net and just whip it around to the far blue line. There's not a lot of skill in that."

Bowman's father -- legendary coach Scotty Bowman, now a 'Hawks senior advisor -- has been a proponent of the idea for years. When the NHL was considering removing the red line during the 2004-05 lockout, he tinkered with the ringette line on a TV show called "Making the Cut."

The NHL removed the red line as part of a new rules package intended to open up the game. Part of the reason was to reduce trapping in the neutral zone. As strategy evolved, teams started firing the puck down the ice, and teams started trapping at their own blue lines.

Along with safety concerns related to increased speed, there were aesthetic concerns related to reduced skill. Some GMs and coaches want to re-institute the red line, but the worry is that neutral-zone trapping will return with it.

"I think we took the red line out for a reason," said Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. "I'm aware of that. So trying the ringette line is the next logical step. The more I listen, I'm fine with it. I think we have to do something, and that's a good alternative. If the majority of the general managers weren't interested in putting the red line back in, there's no point in pushing that."

The theory with the ringette line: Teams won't be able to trap at the red line, because they are still vulnerable to the stretch pass. But they won't want to sit back at their blue line, either, because that stretch pass can't be made until the puck reaches the ringette line. They will have an opportunity to attack the puck carrier in the interim.

"You can kind of jump him," Stan Bowman said. "It's a critical point to get to that ringette line."

The problem is, it hasn't been tried anywhere. That's why multiple GMs said they want to see how it works in the AHL before they consider adding it to the NHL.

"It's more theoretical," Stan Bowman said. "That's why we're not advocating adopting it. Because it could have the opposite effect. Sometimes these things are all great in theory, and then you get on the ice and you realize, well, it's not happening the way we drew it up. I think coaches are good at maybe finding weaknesses in it. So at this point there's some merit to it. It could work. But let's see if it can work."

And if it does work, what will they call it?

The Bowman line? The Burke line?

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has been a proponent of it for a while, too.

"I don't know if you want to call it the Brian line or the Scotty line," said Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford. "But anyways, we're going to give it a try."

Two other concrete proposals came out of the second day of the GM meetings at the Boca Beach Club:

Hybrid icing

This is a compromise between touch icing and no-touch icing intended to reduce accidents at the end boards. Instead of seeing who touches the puck first, the officials would see who wins the race to the face-off dots. If the defensive player wins or there is a tie, icing. If the offensive player wins, the play remains live.

"We've talked about this for a while, and how many injuries have we had? Not a lot," said Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero. "But one's too many, and there's a number of them that you say, 'Wow, that was close. I can't believe nothing happened on that play where nothing bad happened.' Instead of maybe broken legs, which are bad enough, it could be something worse."

The GMs now need to refine the language for the NHL. (For instance: How do you determine the winner of the race? By who's stick is first? Wouldn't Zdeno Chara win every one?)

Once they do that, the rule needs to go through the competition committee and the NHL Board of Governors.

No more "attainable passes."

This would make icing more uniform. Currently, officials can wave off icing if they feel a team made an "attainable pass." But standards vary from official to official. Starting next season, players would be required to touch the puck to negate icing.

"I know our managers want to take the gray out of it and make it a touch pass," Campbell said. "If it doesn't touch, then it's icing. So take the gray out of the 'attainable pass.' We've had some issues in games -- what's attainable, what's not."

This also must pass through the competition committee and the NHL Board of Governors.

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