What better place than the sunny shores of South Florida for the airing of a few grievances?
The NHL’s 30 general managers will do just that, along with play a little golf over the next few days as they convene to discuss several potential rule changes during their semi-annual meeting, starting Monday.
Player safety is expected to dominate the agenda, with debates over hybrid icing, the removal of the goaltenders’ trapezoid, and the return of the red line all sparked by widespread concerns over concussions.
Getting rid of touch icing seems to have unprecedented support. GMs are interested in the NCAA and USHL rule method of players racing to the faceoff dot instead of the puck.
“That’s something worth a real good dialogue,” St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong said. “I don’t think it affects the speed of the game. In my opinion, it increases player safety, but I’d like the hear the counter to that from the guys, too.”
The trapezoid, which prevents goaltenders from going into the corner to play the puck, is being regarded as a mistake by some GMs, because defencemen are left more vulnerable to big hits in their own zone.
“I’d prefer to see it out,” Detroit GM Ken Holland said. “I think if you’ve got a goalie that can go out and handle the puck and he’s got an advantage, let him go.”
The Florida Panthers’ Dale Tallon, among others, wants to discuss reinstalling the red line and two-line pass infractions as measures to counter player speed in the neutral zone. This topic is sure to stir up a spirited debate, as opinion appears to be split.
Holland said restoration of the red line would be going too far. He and other general managers warn against making too many changes in response to the concussion issue.
“We’ve got the best coaches and the best players in the world, and whatever you do, they seem to adjust,” Holland said. “Everybody thought taking the red line out [in 2005]was the best invention since sliced bread. Now we’re having debates to change it again. Now we want to slow the game down, obviously because we’re concerned about injuries. ... We’re never going to come up with a rules package and a league with no injuries. If you do, it’s going to be flag football. There’s going to be no hitting.”
Other topics up for discussion:
Bear hug: For several years, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has advocated a form of holding along the boards to lessen the number of big hits.
Bowman line: Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman would require players to skate past a new line at the top of the circles before making a long pass to the far end of the ice. This option could be considered as an alternative to bringing back the red line.
Equipment: NHL vice-president of player safety Brendan Shanahan is expected to update a movement toward smaller shoulder pads.
Line changes: Some GMs want tighter calling of the penalty for too many men on the ice. “It’s like anything: Coaches and players are smart, and if they feel they can get a little advantage, they’re going to do it,” Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said. “I think this is one of those areas where they keep taking more and more advantage of the situation.”
Video review: Some GMs feel goaltender-interference penalties are being called inconsistently, and feel video review could help referees get it right.
Unlike the past two GM meetings when a hot-button topic dominated, this year the agenda is relatively wide open. But there’s always the possibility of a major incident changing the course of the conversation, as happened when Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was concussed by Boston’s Milan Lucic just before the last meeting.
“We never felt goalie safety was an issue [going into the last meeting] but all of a sudden that became at the forefront of that meeting,” Armstrong said. “I think some of these, it’s what’s the topic du jour.”
GMs will also discuss the collective agreement, which expires after the season. The NHL intends to announce a temporary salary cap at least several million dollars higher than the current $64.3-million, but that figure could change dramatically under a new CBA.
“I think it’s really just an update on where things stand,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.