Thursday, March 20, 2008

Injury Revitalizes Classic Debate: No Touch Icing

For anyone who missed it, Kurtis Foster suffered a scary injury last night that was, for all intents and purposes, entirely avoidable and would surely spark some discussion around the league today. Foster was racing Torrey Mitchell of the San Jose Sharks back to touch the puck for an icing when Foster seemed to lose an edge, or get pushed by Mitchell depending on how you view the video, sending Foster into the boards at full speed. He was carried off the ice on a stretcher and it was later learned that he’d suffered a broken leg. The play reminds me of watching Mark Tinordi, a defenseman for the Dallas Stars, break his femur on an eerily similar play. Mark was never quite the same after that play and it’s exactly the kind of injury you don’t see in most other hockey leagues due to a rule called “no touch icing.”

See the incident for yourself:

The no touch icing rule is a way that leagues avoid having players race each other back to the end boards in that kamikaze style fashion that the NHL currently demands. When the puck is iced, meaning shot from the guilty team’s side of the redline to the other zone and beyond the goal line without being touched by another player, the play is immediately blown dead and icing is called. The defending team does not have to touch the puck to earn the icing call, as they do in the NHL right now, it’s simply automatic as soon as the puck crosses the goal line. This does, of course, eliminate those few situations where the team who iced the puck beats the defending team back to be the first ones to touch the puck, thereby negating the icing call. Those moments are generally few and far between while the majority of icing plays actually reduce the intensity of the game, slow down the play and obviously put players at risk.

The debate has gone on for quite some time in the NHL as it seems like we hear about it every year. For me, the pros of no touch icing outweigh the cons in a pretty obvious manner. I think it kills some of the down time when the puck is iced and could actually produce more late game goals in situations where one team is trying to tie the game in the last minute and the defensive team is satisfied with just icing the puck. In those scenarios, the team that’s trying to tie the game actually loses valuable seconds off the clock while they push to get back and touch the puck. With no touch icing, the clock would stop the instant the puck crossed the goal line giving that team more time to create opportunities and provide those exciting finishes that we love so much. In other game situations, it gives the team that iced the puck a little less rest, which fits with the current rule that you can’t change lines when you ice the puck, and avoids that downtime where the audience is just watching a player leisurely skate back to touch up. The con is obviously that rare situation where a player is able to negate the icing and create a scoring chance by beating the defending team back to the puck. It seems to me that the no touch rule actually fits with the current direction of the NHL and I’ll be surprised if it’s not adopted in the near future. Hopefully for them, this will be the last serious injury to stem from their indecisiveness.

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