RALEIGH — Hockey players need to be adaptable, given how quickly things can change on the ice.
Or in the rulebook.
Some new NHL rules are being tested during preseason games that have players adjusting. Is the jersey untucked? Who won that race to the face-off dot? How best to take advantage of shallower nets?
The NHL is using hybrid icing during the preseason and could continue it in the regular season if the NHL Players Association approves. The measure calls for icing to be called if the defensive player beats the offensive player to the face-off dot in the defensive zone in an icing situation.
All agree hybrid icing will reduce the risk of injury. It’s tempting to call it the “Joni Pitkanen Rule,” as the Carolina Hurricanes defenseman suffered a broken heel bone in a game last season as he skated back to ice the puck.
“Something has to be done, player safety-wise,” Canes forward Patrick Dwyer said this week. “I think there’s still that gray area where there’s still a little confusion with what’s going on. There may have to be some tweaks made to it to cover some gray areas, but I think the thought process is moving in the right direction to make it safer but at the same time have a race for the puck.”
Pitkanen, who has healed slowly and will be sidelined this season, was hurt when he crashed into the boards trying to beat Washington’s Troy Brouwer to the puck. Had hybrid icing been in effect, the whistle would have blown when Pitkanen was first to get to the left face-off dot.
“If we’re going to get an extra 20 feet from the goal line to the dot, most defensemen would like to take it,” Canes defenseman Ron Hainsey said Wednesday. “It may not be a perfect system, but it’s better than what we had.”
One problem, Dwyer noted, is that in loud arenas it may be hard to hear the whistle sound.
“If you have one (player) going in thinking it’s an icing and it’s not, it may be a recipe for disaster,” Dwyer said.
Some believe the no-tuck rule – actually enforcement of an old rule – could be the same.
Hurricanes forward Alexander Semin was the first NHL player to be penalized for tucking, which calls for a two-minute, delay-of-game minor. Semin was warned and then called for the penalty in the Canes’ first preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
An NHL rule in the books since 1964 calls for all protective equipment except gloves, headgear and goalie pads be worn under the uniform. Preventing the jersey from being tucked creates uniformity among the players in terms of appearance, and also makes the players’ numbers more visible.
Semin, who rarely gives media interviews, has not addressed the no-tuck issue or penalty. Canes captain Eric Staal did.
“It’s dumb,” Staal said. “I understand what happened, because they were told to make that call in the preseason. But if they call that in a regular-season game when something is on the line and a deterrent from winning a game, that’s ridiculous.”
Several players noted that Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player ever, was among those who always had his jersey tucked.
“Kids grew up tucking their jerseys in looking to be like him and don’t understand how it’s bad for the game,” Canes forward Kevin Westgarth said.
Goaltenders in the league may have a hard time understanding why the old nets were bad for the game. The new nets are 40 inches deep instead off 44 inches, allowing a little more room behind the goal for offensive players to roam.
“It’s definitely a change you have to focus on,” Canes goalie Cam Ward said. “There will be some wraparound plays where you have to be on your toes and get over to that far post a little bit quicker than previously. You need that added awareness of what’s going on.”
The length of goalie leg pads also was shortened this season. Ward said the pad change was minimal for him, saying it was just a half-inch.
“If anything I like it because I feel I have a little more mobility,” he said.
Ward smiled when asked if the NHL ever does anything to make a goalie’s job easier.
“Hopefully they can put it to rest for a little while and let us just play with what we have,” he said.
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