Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving missed the one-on-one conversations.
New Jersey Devils counterpart Tom Fitzgerald didn’t have a chance to learn from his experienced colleagues up close.
And Kelly McCrimmon of the Vegas Golden Knights was keen to get to know some new faces.
NHL general managers met in person this for the first time in more than 750 days this week.
At their last face-to-face gathering in March 2020 – shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world and much of society – salary cap news was a focus.
The other topic that quickly became trivial was a shortage of hockey sticks because of coronavirus-related factory closures in China.
COVID-19 was discussed, but the shutdowns to come were far beyond anyone’s imagination.
More than two years later, GMs were finally back together.
“There’s nothing better than to get in the room eyeball-to-eyeball with guys,” Treliving said after the league’s 32 managers wrapped two days of talks at the swanky Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa. “These meetings are important. That’s the group of people that shepherd the game.
“It’s much more productive when you’re in the group setting live versus a Zoom call.”
“Nice to see everybody again,” added Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas.
Fitzgerald’s last GM meeting two years ago was also his first. He was happy to be back between David Poile of the Nashville Predators and the New York Islanders’ Lou Lamoriello – managers are seated in alphabetical order according to their team’s name – in the boardroom.
“A lot of wisdom and a lot of experience,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a very welcoming group. They empower you to ask questions and give your thoughts. There’s no being shy about it or ‘I’m the young guy, I’m not gonna say anything.’
“It’s very open.”
League business this week included updates on programs related to safety, respect and inclusion, an officiating discussion, no-trade lists, the future of the World Cup of Hockey and a conversation about the salary cap potentially stretching into the playoffs.
With a third of NHL teams having new GMs since March 2020, it was also a chance to get to know some of the new guys.
“There tremendous value in the personal interaction,” McCrimmon said. “The meetings are scheduled for this time of year with the trade deadline behind everyone. It’s just an easier setting for conversation, just for getting to know people and build those relationships that are important with your peer group.
“That’s the real benefits of the meetings.”
Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland said this week was another dose of normalcy as the NHL continues to pivot back to pre-pandemic life.
“It felt good to be in a group and be able to sit around and talk some hockey,” he said.
“Hopefully we’re in the process of getting our world back.”
McCrimmon declined to talk about drama that saw the Golden Knights’ recent deal with the Ducks voided because Evgenii Dadonov’s no-trade list included the Anaheim, but commended the winger’s commitment to Vegas as the team pushes for a playoff spot.
Dadonov scored three goals in two games before the deadline, and has five points (two goals, three assists) in three contests since.
“He’s been a real pro,” McCrimmon said.
The Vegas GM was also asked about Jack Eichel’s transition to Vegas. The centre has seven goals and seven assists in 20 games since arriving in Sin City following a trade with the Buffalo Sabres and his subsequent neck surgery.
“He’s just getting more and more in rhythm,” McCrimmon said. “There’s a handful of things he does every night that players on either team can’t do.”
The death of Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk prompted a query about where the team goes from here off the ice.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he had been in touch with the executor of the 62-year-old’s estate. Melnyk had two adult daughters – Anna and Olivia.
“The franchise will run in the ordinary course,” Bettman said. “All of the issues in terms of what the future looks like, we said, ‘Let’s focus on Eugene, and his condition, particularly over the last few weeks.’
“Those are questions that will get dealt with over time.”
NHL alumni association executive director Glenn Healy also addressed the GMs.
The former player and broadcaster wanted to deliver his message to the group with so many new faces.
“They all believe in the same thing,” said Healy, who has also worked with the NHL Players’ Association. “How do we make tomorrow better than today?”
A Stanley Cup winner with the New York Rangers in 1994, the ex-goaltender said the message was simple.
“Use your voice while you’re in a position of power.”
Always a dicey issue, NHL senior vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell said managers were presented different on-ice scenarios and then asked to vote by director of officiating Stephen Walkom.
The league has had some high-profile criticism of referees this season, with Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog blasting the men in stripes after a game this month.
Toronto was also furious following a missed holding call on Auston Matthews that directly led to the winner in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes.
“Sometimes you wonder, going into these meetings, when they’re going to erupt, because races are so tight,” Campbell said. “We’re all concerned about what’s going on in the playoffs because losers in the first round aren’t going to be happy.
“A lot of the preparations in this meeting is about various things that might bring (post-season) controversy.”
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league plans to allow Russian players to be selected at July’s draft in Montreal despite the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The were rumblings the Canadian Hockey League would ban players from both Russia and Belarus from its own import draft, but the country’s top junior circuit has yet to make a decision.
“It’s an evolving situation,” Daly said of the NHL’s stance. “The world might look different in July.
“But it’s not our current intention to have any restriction on Russian players.”