August 17, 2011
TORONTO — The majority of innovations at the NHL's Research and Development Camp this week are geared towards increasing goal-scoring, but a few have a different aim: increasing player safety.
Different forms of icing will be tested again (just like on "Cupcake Wars"!). The League will look at no-touch icing, in which the whistle blows when the puck crosses the goal-line near the end boards; and "hybrid icing," in which players race to the face-off dot and the linesman determines if the attacking player or defending player "would reach the puck first" before blowing the play dead.
The NHL will also test the "Bear Hug Rule," a provision backed by Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, in which "players will be permitted to wrap their opponent up when taking him into the boards without being called for a holding penalty."
(That one, we can't wait to see: "No Mr. Referee, it wasn't obstruction at all … I was gently hugging him like a large mammal would in order to prevent calamity!")
But perhaps the most interesting player safety test at the R&D Camp is something that doesn't involve a rule change, but rather a change to the rink. Dan Rosen of NHL.com reports that after hundreds of hours of studies, "the NHL has developed a curved-glass system that will replace the padded turnbuckles, which were set on the stanchions at the end of each player bench."
This is, of course, a reaction to the injury suffered by Max Pacioretty(notes) of the Montreal Canadiens last season when Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara(notes) drove him into the turnbuckle at Bell Centre and ended his season with a concussion and vertebrae injury, while at the same time forcing all of us to learn how to spell "stanchion."
From NHL.com, the details on the curved glass, which ice-making guru Dan Craig hopes to have in all League arenas for next season:
"The curved glass came into that area because when we went to a safety engineer he clearly said that termination point is an abrupt end and we can't have an abrupt end," Craig said.
The curved glass will not be padded because the physics of it declare it doesn't have to be. The glass is designed to deflect any player who skates into it back into the field of play.
"That's because it's free-flowing," Craig said. "The curve itself is a continuation of the straight line from the glass and then it bends around. There is no place to put a pad. If you put a pad there, you create a hazard of having a shoulder stick and twist because this is a free-flowing system. If you're coming down the wall at the players' bench and there is contact, your shoulder will deflect off of that and you'll continue into the play."
One aspect about this change we're curious about: funky bounces. It would seem the puck being played off this glass could lead to some unpredictable deflections near the benches, which players will have to adjust to.
But we'll take funky bounces over 22-year-old players on stretchers any day.