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2013 NHL Preseason: Hybrid Icing is Being Tested, so Why Not Video Replay?

The NHL has some definite rule changes in place for the 2013-14 season, but they are also looking at, or at least should have been, a few variations in the preseason games.

Joel Auerbach

We're getting close to the start of another, blessed, NHL season, so I'll start this with my traditional, beginning of the year greeting for those of you who might be new to our fair site.

Hi, my name is Erin, and I have a rules-nerd problem.

Yes, I've spent way too much of my life pouring over rulebooks and video examples, trying to discern the actual definition of "impact the boards violently" and "retards the progress of an opposing player" as understood by the men in stripes and the NHL front office. That also means I spend an inordinate amount of time pondering the proposed and actual rule changes each summer and what affect those might have on the game. To reach into the wayback machine, here's what people were talking about coming out of the last lockout and what changed heading into 2011-12.

There are several notable rule changes on the books for the 2013-14 season, and we'll get to those in a few days, but there are a also a few things under consideration that we will see (or should have seen, in one case) in the preseason. So if you get a chance to see a preseason game this month, here are a couple things to ponder.

Hybrid Icing

Why is the league experimenting with hybrid icing? See below for the gory examples:

One shattered ankle and two broken femurs. Injuries on icing races are rare, but they are often horrific when they do occur. Here's some of the fun both Foster and Fedun got to go through with their femur fractures.

Even so, the relative risk of any given icing play is relatively low - the number of this type of injury is 1-2 a season, if that. But the question the NHL has properly asked is this: What's the potential reward of the icing play? An exciting chase? The occasional last-gasp lunge where a forward negates the call? Even 500 of those probably isn't worth a player losing his career.

Because honestly, the thrill of an icing race is pretty minimal. There are many things that make a hockey game exciting, with icing races very, very low on the scale. Many lower-level leagues, in fact, have done away with touch icing completely because of this risk-to-reward issue.

Rather than going straight there, the NHL is experimenting with a concept called hybrid icing, where the linesman will rule who "wins" the race to the low face off dot rather than the puck itself, with a tie or close call going to the defenseman. I put wins in quotations because if a forward is coming in with a much better angle on the puck, the linesmen have the discretion to consider that a win for the forward and let the play go. The idea is to eliminate the race to the very dangerous area 2-6 foot zone next to the boards, where losing one's footing can result in disastrous consequences.

The rule, which was tested in the AHL during the lockout, is in place for the preseason, and the NHLPA is supposed to vote on implementation for this season before the start of October.

If I had to guess, I'd say we won't see this passed this season but will likely see it come into play for the start of the 2014-15 campaign. Hockey players are creatures of habit, and I suspect it will take a full year of pondering before anything will change. But it's definitely coming, and it's about time.

Video Review... or not

There was also a rule change announced as fully approved that you might have expected to see this season - automatic video review of double-minor high sticks. The league announced this with the slate of rule changes over the summer, after all, and it seemed like a nice step forward in using technology to help settle some issues with an objectively-qualified rule.

However, this isn't going to happen, at least this season. Last weekend, the league announced it was putting that on the back burner for the moment.

The competition committee had agreed to review all high-sticking calls for validity, but on Saturday Campbell said concerns about goals scored on delayed penalties led the NHL to cancel that plan for 2013-14.

"We're punting right now," Campbell said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "We're going to watch it, we're going to talk about it and see how many times it happens. We just don't want to do something that we weren't totally comfortable with on video review. We want everything to be clear and precise, and we didn't think that was."

While this decision annoyed some, including the fine folks over at Puck Daddy, I can understand the logic when it comes to using video reviews for penalties.

On one hand, it would be extremely simple to use video review to determine the accuracy of every called double-minor for high sticking (or for that matter, every minor for high sticking period, though almost all other penalties are not nearly as suited for video review), especially when the whistle is blown immediately. The ref or linesman blows his whistle, the folks upstairs take a quick look while the offender is escorted to the box and his victim is attended to by trainers and everyone is happy.

On the other hand, it's extremely complicated to draw the rules on how to catch a missed call, particularly if other meaningful events happen in the time between the cal land the whistle. Reviews naturally happen at the completion of a play (no sport, to my knowledge, allows for the stopping of a game mid-play to review a call since if the review is inconclusive or does not overturn the original call, you have penalized the team in possession at the time), and in hockey, that could be an interval of several minutes. A lot can happen in that time, including a team scoring a goal or more missed/made calls.

Just for context, here's the rules that are in play when a goal is missed during the run of play and found only via video review.

When a team scores an apparent goal that is not seen by the on-ice officials and play continues, the play shall be reviewed by the Video Goal Judge at the next stoppage of play. If the goal is confirmed by video review, the clock (including penalty time clocks, if applicable) is re-set to the time the goal was scored. If the goal is not confirmed by video review, no adjustment is required to the clock time.

Only one goal can be awarded at any stoppage of play. If the apparent goal was scored by Team A, and is subsequently confirmed as a goal by the Video Goal Judge, any goal scored by Team B during the period of time between the apparent goal By Team A and the stoppage of play (Team B’s goal), the Team B goal would not be awarded. However, if the apparent goal by Team A is deemed to have entered the goal, albeit illegally (i.e. distinct kicking motion), the goal shall be disallowed by the Video Goal Judge and since the play should have stopped for this disallowed goal, no goal can be awarded to Team B on the same play. The clock (including penalty time clocks, if applicable) must be re-set to the time of the disallowed Team A goal and play resumed.

Any penalties signaled during the period of time between the apparent goal and the next stoppage of play shall be assessed in the normal manner, except when a minor penalty is to be assessed to the team scored upon, and is therefore nullified by the scoring of the goal. Refer to Rules 16.2 and 18.2. If an infraction happens after the first stoppage of play following an apparent goal (infraction after the whistle) by either team, it is assessed and served in the normal manner regardless as to the decision rendered by the Video Goal Judge.

That's part of rule 78.6 for those playing the home game. And it confuses people every, infrequent, time it happens. People gripe about goals that were scored in the aftermath taken away, they don't understand why penalties still apply if the time is wiped off the clock and generally there's just a lot of issues.

I suspect the delay in implementing the video review for high sticks surrounds writing similar language for the rulebook about missed calls. The logic used in this rule does set up a bit of a conundrum - the clock (and any plays other than penalties) is re-set to the point that a whistle should have been blown, even if it was for a disallowed goal.

So say a player on Team A is high sticked by a player from Team B and bleeds, but the referee missed it. Play continues for the next two minutes with the puck switching possession from Team A to Team B 15 seconds in but Team A regaining possession later in that frame. Team A eventually scores, then we go to the booth to see if the high stick should be reviewed (after all, even with a "delayed penalty goal," there's still another two minutes of the double minor to account for).

Using the existing logic with the missed-goal rule, Team A's goal would be waived off because the play should have stopped 15 seconds after the missed call, the first time they lost possession to Team B. The NHL doesn't want this - they don't want to award a team that commits an infraction by wiping off a goal against, especially when even good power plays only clip along around 20 percent. But the existing logic for resetting the game after a missed whistle, one they have to maintain to defend their missed goal rule, does reward the penalized team in this case.

There are other, also rare scenarios where this might be a problem for the players involved. If a player takes a high stick with his team trailing with 45 seconds left and an empty net and the game ends without a turnover to the other team, is the league somehow obligated to reward the trailing team with extra time? After all, a signal for a delayed penalty in that situation would probably lead to an immediate and intentional turnover in order to load up for a 6 on 4 power play, something that wouldn't happen without the signal for a delayed call.

And delayed calls themselves are a bit of a Pandora's box. They are, in and of themselves, an advantage. If a delayed penalty is called on Team B and Team A scores on it, then using the video replay it's determined that Team A's player was struck by his own teammate, does the clock get reset to the point the arm originally went up? No call had officially been made on the ice at that point, after all, so there's nothing to officially reverse. But Team A obviously received a marked advantage from the missed call that (technically) never happened on the game sheet.

Finally, there is the question of inconclusive replays, which are definitely possible with the always-nebulous windup and follow-through exclusion and any situation where you've got stick lifts. High sticking (along with puck over glass) is probably the most objective of the rules, but even with this there is some subjectivity involved that can be hard to objectively review during a replay. Do these always default to the call on the ice? Does it make the league finally define what a "wild swing at a bouncing puck" actually is, or come to some consensus if you can have a normal shooting motion and follow through on a clearing attempt?

It's enough to make your head hurt.

The league decided there are just too many unanswered questions at this point to go forward with video review of double-minor high sticks, and frankly they're right.

But I don't let them entirely off the hook. Many of these questions do need further testing, and the preseason would be a perfect place to do that. My ideal implementation of this system, since they seem determined to bring video review to at least some penalties, would be that the NHL spent time coming up with detailed answers to the above questions in the off-season and put them in place for the preseason. Then they would see many, though certainly not all, of the bad scenarios and have the chance to evaluate and modify them.

So for the preseason grades at least, it's a big thumbs up on the hybrid icing test and a big thumbs down on the backing away from at least testing the video replay, even if it's not ready to go into regular-season implementation just yet.

And that's not all for the rule changes. We'll get into the things you can expect to see in the regular season later this week.