NHL general managers will gather in Boca Raton, Fla., from Monday to Wednesday in an annual gathering that historically has set in motion some of the biggest rule changes in the game – most recently, the introduction and eventual adoption of hybrid icing.
Among the 40 or so items crammed onto the agenda will be a discussion of what overtime may look like in the not-to-distant future. In 2005-06, coming out of a season lost to a lockout, the league adopted the fan-friendly shootout to break overtime ties – and ever since, roughly 13 per cent of games are decided by the controversial penalty-shot contest.
As recently as 2010, Detroit Red Wings’ general manager Ken Holland proposed that the NHL increase the current five-minute, four-on-four overtime period so that fewer games are decided by a shootout. Over time, support has built for some version of Holland’s initiative, which involves adding a second five-on-five overtime period that would be played with three skaters apiece.
Some of his colleagues – notably the St. Louis Blues’ Doug Armstrong – are reluctant to go that far because they haven’t seen enough three-on-three action to know what it might look like, and thus are more inclined to go to a full 10-minute period of four-on-four overtime.
In November, the New Jersey Devils’ Lou Lamoriello proposed the simplest tweak (and the one most likely to be adopted) – that teams switch ends for overtime, so that they are required to make the longer, more challenging on the-fly-line changes using four skaters apiece. Theoretically, such a change could create more confusion on the benches, more open ice in overtime and thus more scoring.
“I would prefer for our game to be decided by playing hockey instead of the skill part of the game, which is the shootout,” Dallas Stars’ general manager Jim Nill told The Canadian Press.
“It’s really tough. You can play a great game, play a great overtime and then you go to a shootout and just because you lose a shootout it feels like you’ve lost the game – and you have, and it hurts because you played such a good game. I would rather lose a game by playing the game.”
In general, the March GM meetings begin with smaller group sessions to discuss possible rule changes for next season. If the GMs reach a consensus, then their proposals are forwarded to the joint NHL-NHLPA competition committee and from there to the board of governors.
Most of the topics on the agenda were originally broached at the November GM meetings in Toronto, including the possibility of a tweak to the rules that apply to goalie fights. Earlier this season, the Philadelphia Flyers’ Ray Emery crossed centre ice in a game against the Washington Capitals to engage an unwilling combatant Braden Holtby in a fight. Even though it was a relatively rare circumstance, there is a move afoot to ensure goalies that cross center ice to fight will be automatically suspended in the same way a position player who leaves the bench to fight receives an automatic suspension.
The GMs will also discuss adding some tweaks to the video replay rule, a response to the Jan. 18 game in which the Red Wings won a controversial overtime decision over the Los Angeles Kings after a puck shot by Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall that was clearly out of play caromed back into the rink and deflected in off Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. None of the four officials on the ice saw the puck carom high off the netting before landing back on the ice. Potentially, the extra point that the Red Wings earned that night could be the difference between them making and missing the playoffs.
The West is set, but don’t try to make sense of the East
Not everyone is completely clear about how the new NHL playoff format works, so here’s a brief primer, based on the standings through Sunday morning and the notion that unless the Minnesota Wild fall apartin the final month, the first seven spots in the West are pretty much sewn up.