BOCA RATON, FL -- With no appetite for major changes to the game, the NHL's General Managers are set to propose several small "tweaks" to existing competition.
What to look for:
- A proposal to move the hashmarks aside the offensive zone faceoff circles from three feet apart to five, in an effort to clear up congestion. "Less b.s.," as Islanders GM Garth Snow said Monday, a quote so useful it must be recycled.
- A proposal to change the way faceoff "cheaters" are dealt with. Now, the offender is kicked out of the circle, but too many GMs feel that's being used as a delay tactic, to rest tired teammates. Instead, the guilty party would be forced to move back between 12-18 inches (still to be decided), making it harder to reach for the puck. A second violation would remain a penalty.
"That eliminates the scrum along the boards and allows the quicker player to get to the puck and generate scoring opportunities," said St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong, who pushed for these changes. "[Coaches] will put the winger in with very little intent to take the faceoff. His goal is to go in there and get tossed out, then the real centreman comes in. What we've seen is, the penalties are stiff for the second guy getting kicked out. It's a two-minute penalty. I don't think the referees are comfortable calling that, and we understand that. The integrity of the second faceoff is less than the first one, because the puck's just going down, regardless."
"We're just hoping to get the integrity back to where we were."
- As expected, a proposal for teams to switch ends before overtime during the regular season, making it a "long change." (Any proposal would need the approval of both the Competition Committee and the Board of Governors before becoming law.)
The United States Hockey League is seeing the percentage of games decided in a shootout decrease after making such a change this season. Monday, Brian Burke was quoted saying "anything that reduces the number of shootouts, I would vote for."
That's the majority opinion, but he wanted to clarify something on Tuesday.
"I wish people would hear my full quote, which is: I know our fans love shootouts and I know they're here to stay. I know our broadcast partners love them. Nobody leaves during a shootout. I'm a bit of a dinosaur and a purist. I don't particularly like them but I vote for them to stay in the game. But, yeah, if we can tweak it and have fewer games decided by a skills competition than I would be in favor of that."
Three-on-three overtime is a no-go.
"I know the players don't have an appetite for making the games longer in the regular-season," said NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider. "It becomes very difficult when there is travel involved and you are going city to city and playing back-to-back games. It becomes more taxing on the top guys and who are out there more often and getting a couple of extra minutes per night."
- This doesn't officially count as a proposal, meaning there may be no need for further approval, but there will be a search for a more "liberal" interpretation of the rules for pucks going in off the skate. Basically, GMs want more of these to count as good goals, but consensus on a case-by-case basis is very difficult. One idea is making it so that if the skate blade stays on the ice, the score counts. But that is not a certainty.
- There will be "further examination" on the idea of expanded video review or a coach's challenge. They are well away from agreeing on the criteria. Cliche alert: There's a will, but not yet a way.
"One specific thing that ... is going to be studied further is adding monitors to the penalty benches to allow the on-ice officials to make or review potential interference calls for good goals versus not goals," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "I think the general managers were strongly of the view that the Toronto situation room be given a little more latitude in ruling good goals versus not goals in particular the Los Angeles-Detroit situation we had where it was clear on video review that the puck hit the netting but nobody was able to really inform the on-ice officials."
"The managers feel something that is egregious and obvious like that, there should be some latitude to make those calls and get the call right."
Players request to slow the game down
On behalf of the players, Schneider delivered a request to slow down the game a tad, "to give a little bit of relief for defencemen."
"There's definitely no appetite for bringing in any more hooking and holding," he said. "But there may be room for allowing a little more interference. Maybe we would like to get rid of the trapezoid again. This would give defencemen more relief when they go back for the puck."
That also brought to mind one of Burke's pet ideas, the "bear hug," where a player could momentarily hold up an opponent going into the boards to prevent serious injury.
"We didn't talk about the bear hug -- it's probably the first meeting in eight years where we didn't talk about the bear hug -- I'm Irish so I just keep putting the stuff on the agenda and I figure sooner than later some will pass," he laughed.
"[Schneider] is talking more about setting picks -- defencemen being able to set picks for their partner. He thinks the forecheck pressure is too intense and we should allow for not a return to the 70's, but allow that defensive partner or forward to at least obstruct the path of the forechecker and take some of the speed out. There's some merit to that, Mathieu Schneider played a long time in this game and he's a pretty good defenceman. So when players have been in our league and played that position talk I think you should listen."
"Aside from that," Schneider said. "I think guys feel pretty good about where the game is at."
You won't find too many GMs disagreeing.
"You can't come to a three-day meeting and say, 'Here's the problem, here's the solution, set in stone, let's move forward," Armstrong said. "You try and inch these things along. You don't want to come back two days later, you're talking to your coach about it... and the ship has sailed and it's in the rule book."
"I think we feel, for the most part, most of us, that we have a good product," Ottawa's Bryan Murray said. "We've made some changes in the past years and the game in itself is real good. We obviously would like to have more games decided if there's an overtime at that time, so that's why they're talking about flipping the ends and doing a variety of things. But we like our game. We think that for the most part, it's in good order."
The salary cap
GMs are to be briefed about it on Wednesday, the final day of meetings. Kings GM Dean Lombardi said last week he was preparing for a drop to $68 million US instead of the previously projected $71M because of the Canadian dollar's fall. Daly was asked about that.
"Well, obviously the value of the Canadian dollar has an effect on the cap, ultimately," he said. "It's probably not as large an effect as people might think ... I'd tell you we have not done projections since December, so we haven't even looked at the effect of the Canadian dollar ... I'm -- to a certain extent -- speculating, but I don't think it has an effect of more than $1-2 million, tops."
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