Glen Sather and Icing Safety: Compassion or Gamesmanship?

New Jersey Devils defenseman Andy Greene (6) tries to control the puck as New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan (24) defends during the third period of the game at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Rangers defeated the Devils 4-3.

It’s nice that Rangers’ GM Glen Sather is coming out, very publicly, in favor of the NHL adopting some kind of no-touch icing rule. Sather’s in favor of the race to the puck stopping at the faceoff dots, rather than around the boards.

Sather was commenting on the state of icing in the NHL because of Oiler defenseman Taylor Fendun’s horrific leg injury, which occurred during a race for an iced puck.

But while I believe Sather is sincere in his comments, the timing, Fendun’s injury aside, is rather interesting. Because two games into a new season, the Rangers’ offense has been experimenting with a new (for them) strategy.

The team has been shooting the puck into the offensive zone from right inside the red line, an aggressive dump-and-chase maneuver. So far, it hasn’t been working for the Rangers, who lack the strength on their top line to get to the puck and lack the finesse on their second line to do anything productive when they have the puck.

But assuming the Rangers, and coach John Tortorella, stick with the dump-and-chase, especially one that starts right past center ice, there’s a good chance the team is going to be involved in a lot more icing races. So Sather, whose top line is two-thirds concussion victims, has a vested interest in doing whatever it takes to keep his players safe from the boards.

Which is not to say Sather is wrong about icing. The icing races are unnecessarily dangerous. Michael Russo did a great job making the case Sunday. But would Sather care about icing if his team was spending more time carrying the puck into the offensive zone?

The NHL, like just about every sports league, has rules created by people who make their living from the same sport they’re charged to regulate. In a lot of respects, it’s a conflict of interest. If a GM has to choose between player safety and winning, how many will choose player safety? One would hope most would, but given the stakes in modern sports, you could understand how GMs might also be tempted to put winning first.

Right now, an NHL GM might be speaking out in favor of a rule change because he believes it’s what’s best for the safety of players. Or he might be speaking out because the rule change could help protect his team.

Maybe it’s time for NHL player safety to be decided by people who have no interests other than keeping players safe.

Players can’t depend upon coaching strategies dovetailing with safety issues.