Fewer slashes means more goals; NHL GMs happy with crackdown
Parade of penalties beginning to decrease as players get used to new standard
If there are any qualms about the National Hockey League's crackdown on slashes to the hands, they are not shared by the general managers.
Teams are scoring about half a goal per game more since officials made the quick tap to the hands or the top of the stick the NHL's most frequently called minor penalty.
The rule was aimed not only at protecting players after some gruesome hand injuries were suffered last season, but also to eliminate it as a tactic to cause skilled players to lose control of the puck.
"It's still a work in progress but in general I think the standard has been very positive," the Tampa Bay Lightning's Steve Yzerman said after a three-hour meeting of the league's 31 GMs.
The meeting was held at the former Windsor Hotel, where the NHL was founded in November, 1917. It was one of several events this weekend to mark the league's centennial.
There were no major decisions made. The GMs and league officials discussed issues in the game like goaltender interference reviews, offside challenges and the crackdown on faceoff violations.
The talks helped set the agenda for a more in-depth, three-day meeting in March, where rule change proposals are usually made.
The slashing crackdown has seen a parade to the penalty box, but the calls look to be here to stay.
"I think people are a little frustrated when you're getting those penalties and power plays against, but hopefully it smoothes out and everybody adjusts to it," said Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan. "I think that's what everybody is anticipating.
"It's frustrating going through the process, but hopefully we get to the point where it's effective and it's not being done anymore and there are not as many calls."
Former enforcer George Parros, the new director of player safety, made his first presentation at a GMs meeting and much of it dealt with slashing. He is mainly concerned with violent incidents, like the ugly finger injury suffered by defenceman Marc Methot last season and Johnny Gaudreau's hand injury. He said the more common "love taps" can be handled by the officials on the ice.
"I focused on slashes that are done intentionally, behind the play, and landing on the hands-fingertips area," said Parros. "It's a new standard.
"Everyone's getting used to it. If it's behind the play and it's intentional and there's some force to it, then it's a warning. The variable is force."
Overall, Parros likes what he's seen on the ice.
"I gave them an update on numbers and stuff from last year and in general, the trends have been downward," he said. "We've got less suspensions, less injuries, all things like that.
"The game is being played in a great fashion right now and we hope to continue to do that."
Colin Campbell, the league's director of hockey operations, said the rise in scoring may spring from more than just a slashing crackdown.
"I think it's a reflection of younger players in the league," he said. "We're down to an average of 23 and 24 being our biggest segment of players.
Offside challenges contentious
"I think our players in rush reads and down-low coverage are faster and more talented, but older players are more defensive and have more patience. Younger players make more mistakes, but is there anything wrong with that? We always say if you want more goals you need bad goalies and more mistakes."
Offside challenges is a contentious issue. When they were brought in last season, there were complaints that coaches were using them too often and were slowing down the games. This season, if a challenge fails, a minor penalty is called. That has cut down challenges dramatically.
But Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli said: "I think the sentiment is generally positive on putting that minor penalty in and reducing the number of challenges."
Goaltender interference challenges were also discussed, but pinning down a consistent standard in judging whether a player has interfered with or been pushed into a goalie is elusive.
They were also to discuss making penalties called in overtime last only one minute instead of two to boost 3-on-3 time.
One thing there appeared to be no talk of was trades.
"You never see any of that here. There's not enough time," said Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello.