The NHL plans to take a hard line on soft ice at the Florida Suncoast Dome.
The league will commission a feasibility study on the use of the Lightning's $500,000 portable ice system over a 40-game season.
The system's first test _ an exhibition game last Sept. 29 _ ended in failure; the game was canceled because the ice was not ready.
"That can't happen again," said NHL executive vice president Brian O'Neill.
If the ice does not meet NHL standards, the league will ask the Lightning to improve the current system or install a permanent one. The Lightning, in turn, will ask the Dome to foot the bill.
O'Neill said the league has been assured by the Lightning that the system, built by Denver-based Ice Systems of America Inc., will work in the Dome. But the league wants to make sure for itself because "it's not just an exhibition game. It's a 40-game season. It's new equipment and not permanent equipment."
"We are all conscious of the problems they had with the exhibitions," O'Neill said. "They know that reassurances are needed."
O'Neill, who has been involved with the league since 1966, said he cannot recall any NHL team that has played on a portable ice system for a season.
"Canceling a (regular season) game would be bad _ especially in Florida where they are really trying to promote the game," said Doug Moore, president of Jet Ice Ltd., a Toronto-based ice consulting company. Moore will conduct the study.
In September, the Lightning's new portable system was pressed into service for a preseason game the team sponsored between the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins. Seventy minutes after the scheduled start, the game was canceled. Workers installing the system said they didn't have enough time to make the ice playable because some equipment arrived late.
The ice was ready two days later when the Blues defeated the Bruins. But the players said the ice was soft.
Ice Systems president Don May is in Hong Kong on business and could not be reached for comment.
Moore, who attended the exhibition game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Los Angeles Kings two years ago, said, "There is no problem making ice in the Dome with good refrigeration. We might have to modify it, but you can make ice almost anywhere."
Moore said he could not comment on specifics because he does not have all the information.
Moore said the league wants to be assured the ice will be able to meet NHL standards.
"The key is for the ice to be safe for players," Moore said. "And the league doesn't want to have egg on its face."