On the Penguins: Chase thrills or safety?

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The arguments for keeping the NHL's current method of calling icing can be compelling.

It encourages high-speed races by opposing players, because being the first to touch the puck when it has been shot in from the far side of the red line determines whether play is stopped immediately or allowed to continue.

And when an attacking forward wins the race, there's the possibility the non-icing will develop into a scoring opportunity, and there aren't many fans who complain about games having too many of those.

But the arguments for changing it might be even more powerful, because races to the puck don't just create excitement on occasion.

They cause injuries.

Occasionally, grievous ones.

In 2008, Anaheim defenseman Kurtis Foster, then with Minnesota, had his femur broken when Torrey Mitchell of San Jose shoved him into the boards from behind as Foster touched the puck for an icing.

During a preseason game Sept. 30, Edmonton prospect Taylor Fedun got what was described as a "complex" fracture of his right leg after getting tied up with forward Eric Nystrom, then of Minnesota, when Nystrom tried to reach the puck before Fedun.

Defensemen generally are the guys who get hurt in such incidents so, not surprisingly, they tend to be the ones most adamant about changing the rule.

"I don't see what you really eliminate if you take it out," Brooks Orpik of the Penguins said. "To me, it's a no-brainer, taking it out. If you can eliminate some of those injuries ..."

General manager Ray Shero said the Penguins support something known as "hybrid icing," although their Hockey Operations Department still has not finalized its position.

The league's GMs discussed icing at a recent meeting and are expected to do so again later this season.

In hybrid icing, players chasing the puck still race down the ice, but rather than having a potential icing call hinge on who touches the puck, it is based on which player reaches a specific spot first.

The "finish line" could be the top of the faceoff circle, the faceoff dot or even the goal line.

"If you have hybrid icing, you still keep that in the game," Orpik said. "If you put some type of race in there, you just keep it from getting close to the end boards, I think you still keep in the same idea where you're encouraging that race for the puck and if there is a forward who can beat him, he can still beat him."

Having the players slow down after reaching a designated "finish line" would allow them to disengage, if need be, before reaching the boards.

"The dot, I think, gives guys enough time to pull up from a hit, or get their stick out of the guys' skates, or something like that," defenseman Matt Niskanen said.

Sounds like a compromise that a lot of people could accept, if not actively support. But Niskanen pointed out a flaw that could bring the integrity of such a set-up into question.

"The problem when you're racing for just a spot on the ice like that, you don't have to be near the puck to win the race," he said.

Niskanen's point is that if the puck is shot down the left side of the ice, a player could win the race to get an icing called (or waved off) by being the first to the target area even if he's going down the right side.

A possible remedy would be to mandate that players go down the same side of the ice as the puck (even though it sometimes goes down one side and ends up on the other after striking the boards), since that would be easy enough to determine.

After all, if the puck goes on the net, icing is waved off automatically, so there's a pretty clear division between the sides of the playing surface.

Another option with serious support would be to stop play as soon as the puck crosses the goal line, the rule at various levels and leagues around the world, including the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Left winger Chris Kunitz has played under a variety of icing rules and, even though he is a forward, would not object if the NHL switched to no-touch.

"I think that if you're going to do it, you just go all the way," he said. "As soon as it crosses the [goal] line, you blow the play dead.

"When you start getting players to race for the puck, that's when you get pushing and shoving, things where the competitive edge kicks in. That's how accidents happen."

For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @molinaripg .


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