If the NHL learned anything from wholesale rule changes coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, it’s that the game can change awfully quick.
So when general managers started to talk Monday about altering overtime, expanding video review and a host of other topics, there was plenty of bluster and hearty debate but not much momentum for big changes. There’s a reason for that.
“Since 2004, there have been a lot of changes in the game and we have to be careful you don’t change too much,” New York Rangers GM Glen Sather said. “We’ve had a track record of making it worse in some cases. It’s still a great game.”
It’s a game that could see improvements in some areas, most notably reducing the number of shootouts and preventing game-deciding incorrect calls. That’s why when the league’s 30 general managers broke into three groups of 10 on the first day of their annual meeting, one group spent a lot of time discussing ways to change overtime and another looked at more opportunities for video review and the possibility of a coach’s challenge system.
On each front, there didn’t seem to be an appetite for major changes like three-on-three in OT or full-scale replay like the NFL uses.
“Once you bring up one scenario it always affects something else,” Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars said. “It’s like an octopus, grows legs. You have to be careful.”
General managers were nothing if not careful even when throwing around plenty of ideas in separate “breakout” meetings at Boca Beach Club on Florida’s east coast. One group was tasked with studying goaltender interference and how reviewing that would work.
The most likely area for change is in overtime, though Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings was disappointed there wasn’t much support for adding three-on-three or extending it beyond five minutes of four-on-four. Having more games end in a shootout (136) than in overtime (100) this season and also historically is a problem GMs want to remedy, but that might start with baby steps.
“I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to get more minutes, but we talked about longer changes,” Holland said. “We talked today about after 60 minutes possibly having a dry scrape of the ice.”
Changing ends like the second period to force longer line changes and lead to more mistakes and odd-man rushes had “pretty unanimous” support in the small group, according to Garth Snow of the New York Islanders. Scraping the ice before overtime instead of before the shootout could happen as well, though extending game times is a significant issue.
Shootouts are, as well, but the theme from GMs was that fans like them over ties and there doesn’t need to be radical changes made to overtime as a result. One of those that was discussed was the idea of adding a three-on-three element — but that didn’t get much backing, even after a lot of discussion about it in November.
“I can’t see it being changed for a while,” Sather said. “It was tough enough getting four-on-four. Three-on-three is a bit of a pipe dream, in my opinion.”
Holland, who has long been a proponent of changing overtime to cut down on shootouts, would have liked to gather support for that — or at least more time four-on-four. Also, to no avail, though Holland wasn’t sure why, so he told reporters to ask the other 29 GMs.
“When it comes to extra minutes added, you’re talking about your best players playing more. ... They play enough already,” George McPhee of the Washington Capitals said. “(And) we don’t see three-on-three much anyway in hockey, and we think this works pretty well as it is.”
The NHL’s video-review system works well and gets goal calls right more often than not, enough that Major League Baseball borrowed ideas from the situation room in Toronto, and the NFL may soon. But after the Red Wings scored a goal on Jan. 18 against the Los Angeles Kings that shouldn’t have counted because the puck hit the netting, the subject of increased video review became an important one.
Craig MacTavish of the Edmonton Oilers said that situation dominated the talk about expanded video review, which included debate over putting in coach’s challenges. Bryan Murray of the Ottawa Senators wouldn’t mind that.
“I like the idea of a coach’s challenge, but I think if we are reviewing the things that are important then we don’t need the coach’s challenge,” Murray said.
Dean Lombardi of the Kings pointed out that video review is a “more complicated” subject than everyone thinks, but he’d like to make sure what hurt his team doesn’t happen again.
“We might not be having this meeting today about this — this whole thing about coach’s challenge or anything — if that didn’t happen,” he said. “Because we tried this two years ago, but now you get something like this and you go, ‘We’ve got to fix this.’ It’s one in a million. What’s the next one? It goes off the scoreboard and in? But on the other side, the technology keeps getting better. You want to get it right.”
NHL executive vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell, who is in charge of these meetings, supports offside being subject to review. He knows it can change the fortunes of a team, and gets reminders of that often.
“What happens in the playoffs when it’s that one deciding game? You’re going to hear that story for a long time,” Campbell said. “I talk to Ed Snider, owner of the Philadelphia Flyers who’s on the competition committee — he still talks about the offside goal in (1980) that he felt cost him a Stanley Cup. You may chuckle here, but it still bothers him.”
One thing that bothers at least a few GMs is the idea that more reviews would tack extra time onto games, which currently average roughly 2 1/2 hours during the regular season.
No decisions were made Monday in any direction, though some ideas got more support than others. The coach’s challenge might have to wait, but a lot of attention was paid to the possibility of allowing kicked-in goals to count.
“We’re getting a much broader leeway in terms of what we’re allowing, in terms of goals that are deflected,” MacTavish said. “Distinct kicking motion is pretty tough to determine. We’re all feeling that way, so our group anyway would like a little bit more liberal definition of allowing more goals.”
Doug Armstrong of the St. Louis Blues also proposed moving to an international faceoff rule that separates players on outside of the circle by at least three feet.
“I liked it,” Snow said, echoing a few of his colleagues. “Means less B.S. on faceoffs.”
There’s plenty of funny business around the crease, too, which is why one group looked at giving officials a chance to review goaltender interference. Brian Burke, acting GM of the Calgary Flames, doesn’t think it’s an epidemic around the league but said the group talked about putting a TV monitor in the penalty box so that officials could get a better look.
With plenty more questions left to answer, the full group is expected to meet Tuesday morning to assess recommendations on those subjects and vote on potential changes. Chances are, any that are made will not be seen as substantial, though eventually the perception might be different.
“You never know what changes will do to the game,” Campbell said. “You look at two of the slightest changes in the game so far the last 10 years — no change on icing and faceoffs in the offensive zone on a power play, huge change. Huge change.”