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One of the most inconsistent calls I see made is icing by a linesman. It slows the game down and almost looks like they want to give the teams a break in the action. Many times including Game 2 in the Rangers vs Devils series, you see a guy actually slow down to allow the puck to cross the goal line. There are also times you see the player make an attempt at the puck and icing is still called. For what seems like a basic rule, why so much inconsistency? Yes, I know nothing is basic in the NHL but what is the official rule?
I'm all for continuous action as well. The linesmen must exercise their best judgment on icing as to whether a player could have legitimately touched the puck in advance of it crossing the goal line, even when the player slows down, turns the opposite direction when a puck is shot past him or takes a 'zig-zag' course. The benefit of the doubt is generally given to the defensive player as we have seen.
My rule of thumb would be to encourage the linesman to race the player to the goal line. If the linesman was able to pass the defending player and get to the goal line before the puck crossed, we should expect that the player could have been able to do so! Any inconsistency that you point out should be alleviated to a large degree when the hybrid icing rule is implemented next season.
When hybrid icing comes into effect it will force the defensive player to race his opponent to the finish line which extends from his defending zone hash marks through the faceoff dots 20 feet from the goal line. A puck that was shot down the ice from the opponent's side of the red line, not deemed to be a receivable (attainable) pass and has sufficient momentum to cross the goal line will become an automatic whistle (no touch required) if the defending player crosses the finish line before his opponent. This will also encourage attacking players to purse the puck with much more speed since if they win the race to the hash marks, icing will immediately be waved off, even if it had already crossed the goal line.
This new rule will not only provide a safer environment below the goal line as a result of an automatic whistle when icing is determined by the linesman, but also when icing is waved off at the hash marks notifying players that the puck is playable. There shouldn't be any unexpected last-second contact against the end boards since players will know the puck is playable 31 feet in advance of getting to a puck that is resting against the end boards.
For now Frank, the linesmen will have to utilize their best judgment to determine icing as spelled out in rule 81.5: "If, in the opinion of the Linesman, any player (other than the goalkeeper) of the opposing team (defending team) is able to play the puck before it passes his goal line, but has not done so, play shall continue and the icing violation shall not be called. This includes the situation whereby the opposing team, while in the process of making player substitutions during the play, are able to play the puck, but choose not to do so to avoid being called for too many men on the ice. Icing should not be called."
To provide some practice for defenceman that will have to race to the "finish line" next season when the hybrid icing takes effect, perhaps the linesmen can race them to the goal line throughout the remainder of the Stanley Cup playoffs. If the linesman wins the race, icing should be waved off. In most cases, I'm putting my money on the linesmen to win the race!
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