By: Christian Deme, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter: @TheSportingBiz)
Only a few months removed from the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement, the National Hockey League is considering making some significant changes to the game to protect players from injury.
The two main changes being considered are the mandating of visors on player helmets, as well as implementing a hybrid icing in lieu of the standard icing currently used in the NHL. On June 19, the NHL’s general managers endorsed mandatory visors for new players entering the league, as well as the implementation of hybrid icing.
Both changes considered are a result of injuries that players have suffered, in order to protect players from future injuries. New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who was not wearing a visor, took a vicious puck to the face on March 5 and suffered a serious and permanent eye injury. Currently, approximately 74 percent of NHL players wear visors on their helmets.
Hybrid icing differs from standard icing in that it is the mixture of touch and no-touch icing. Touch icing occurs in hockey when a player clears the puck across both the center red line and the opposing goal line with the puck remaining untouched. When icing is called, a linesman blows the play dead and a faceoff occurs in the defending zone of the team that cleared the puck. If the team that shoots the puck across the two red lines reaches the puck before the other team, icing is waved off. Therefore, since there is an incentive to stop icing and prevent having to take a faceoff in front of your own goalie, players race for these cleared pucks, often crashing violently into the boards and potentially suffering serious injuries. With hybrid icing, the linesman has the discretion to blow his whistle if he believes that the defending player will reach the puck first, without requiring the player to actually touch the puck. Additionally, in the event that the race for the puck is a tie, the linesman is to side with the defending player and blow the play dead to prevent the players from crashing into the boards.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement of the NHL serves as the central labor agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA. Although the NHL CBA does not specifically address Official Player Rules such as visors and hybrid icing, the CBA, in Article 22, discusses the procedure for amendments to the Playing Rules.
The NHL and NHLPA establish a Competition Committee for the purpose of examining and making changes to the rules of the game. The issues considered by the Committee are (1) development, change, and enforcement of the Playing Rules, (2) player equipment regulations and standards, (3) dressing room and facility standards, and (4) scheduling.
The Competition Committee consists of up to ten members, including five active players designated by the NHLPA, and five team officials designated by the NHL.
The Committee requires a two-thirds majority for submission for consideration of the NHL general managers. Upon the requisite support from the general managers, the recommendation will be forwarded to the NHL Board of Governors for final approval, which is the current stage of the implementation of mandatory visors and hybrid icing.
The debate over visors and hybrid icing has been an ongoing one for some time now, and was discussed between the League and the Players’ Association during the lockout when they were negotiating the new collective bargaining agreement.
Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to the executive director of the NHLPA, supports the idea of the rule changes if they successfully protect player safety. The NHLPA has polled players regarding mandatory visors and for the first time a large majority has supported grandfathering in mandatory visors.
At the same time, NHL general managers are very much in favor of making visors mandatory for rookies. Players are investments for a team and it’s in the best interest of the teams to protect the health and safety of their players and prevent long-term injuries. The NHL has been plagued with significant concussion problems affecting some of the biggest stars in the game. Guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, and Chris Pronger have all missed time in recent years due to post-concussion symptoms. Moving forward GMs will want to take the recent momentum from the NHLPA and work to protect their players and their overall product for the long-term.
There will be a recommended testing period for hybrid icing during the 2013-14 NHL Preseason. Schneider has stated that if the hybrid icing has a positive reception by the players, it will be implemented as early as Game 1 of the regular season.
The proposals for visors being grandfathered in and hybrid icing being implemented will now go before the NHL Board of Governors for final approval. If the proposed changes to protect player safety are approved, these immediate changes show that the NHL and the NHLPA are committed to protecting the safety of their players. Helmets were grandfathered into the NHL in 1979 and have become such a normal part of professional hockey that it is difficult to imagine an NHL without them. Visors will very likely have the same player reception going forward.