New head of discipline Brendan Shanahan faces some tough issues when it comes to revamping the NHL’s suspension systems. One of the most difficult questions to answer is: “How do you make the game safer without eliminating a necessary physical element from defensive play?”
Brendan Smith’s hit on Ben Smith earned a deserved punishment, but it at least falls under the category of normal hockey checks gone wrong. To some extent, there’s only so much the league can do unless they want the game to turn into flag football on ice.
That being said, the sport needs to give a good, long look at measures that would eliminate unnecessary risks. The clearest area is in the way the NHL officiates icing. Kurtis Foster is among the players who suffered from one of the most dangerous collisions in the sport: when an opposing player (usually a forechecking or “crashing” forward) delivers a bit hit on another player (typically a defenseman) who is about to touch the puck to earn an icing whistle.
From the looks of things, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Taylor Fedun (pictured on the left) is the latest victim of the league’s touch icing policy. Fedun was carted off on a stretcher during tonight’s preseason game against the Minnesota Wild after his skates got tangled up in Eric Nystrom’s stick, forcing Fedun to hit the boards in an awkward way. Nystrom was attempting to cancel out an icing call on the play; he received a five-minute major for boarding and game misconduct, which means he might be Shanahan’s latest disciplinary case.
Update: Fedun suffered a broken right leg from that fall, according to The Associated Press. Oilers head coach Tom Renney described it as a “complex fracture” and hinted that Fedun will be out for the season, but that’s far from an official confirmation.
There are three basic schools of though on icing calls. The first one wants the rule to stay the same, pointing out the occasionally thrilling chase for the puck. The second group would prefer “hybrid icing” which would give officials leeway to decide if a puck pursuit is merited or if the play should be whistled dead. Finally, there’s a growing legion of people who want the league to follow other levels of hockey by instituting “no-touch icing.” (Don Cherry ranks as one of that group’s most prominent members.)
Personally, I’d prefer the league to experiment with hybrid icing. If it works out well, keep it that way. If the subjectivity causes almost as many bad collisions or controversial calls, then go all the way to the no-touch rule.
Either way, the current icing setup is inching its way toward becoming an archaic – some might even ague primitive – rule. The NHL is making a lot of steps in the right direction, which just makes it that much more baffling that they’re not being more progressive with an unnecessarily dangerous part of the game that rarely ranks as anything more than a tedious, time-wasting procedure.