- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The tinkering of the game was at hand Monday when the NHL’s 30 GMs assembled to look at potential rule changes for next season.
The general feeling of the group is that the game is good, that it doesn’t need a major facelift. But a small nip and tuck? Perhaps.
My prediction? Hybrid icing will finally see the light of the day after years of discussion, judging from the positive feedback Monday.
The GMs separated into four breakaway groups Monday and will report back to the larger group Tuesday with specific feedback and/or recommendations. The groups/subjects:
HYBRID ICING/HAND PASSES/CHANGES ON THE FLY
Icing has been debated for six years in a row and it appears there might finally be enough support to switch from the current touch-icing to hybrid icing, which is employed in the NCAA and USHL: a race for the puck to the faceoff dots instead of the end boards, the linesman making the call. The goal, of course, is to once and for all stop putting players at risk of suffering the horrific injuries that touch icing has caused over the years.
Hybrid icing could finally come to fruition if at least 20 of the 30 GMs are on board when the larger group meets.
"I don’t mean to be flippant, but I don’t know why we wouldn’t do that. It makes so much sense," Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, who was a member of the hybrid-icing breakaway group Monday, told ESPN.com after the meeting. "What’s the down side? You still have the race for the puck, all you’re doing is taking the danger out of it. To me it seems like a no-brainer.
"Do it right now."
Any rule recommendation from this week’s GM meetings would still need the NHLPA’s approval via the competition committee, as well as the final rubber stamp from the board of governors in June.
But it’s hard to see anyone wanting to block hybrid icing if the GMs finally act on it.
"Just logically, I can't imagine there's a lot of opposition to hybrid icing; maybe more questions than opposition,” Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said. "It's a logical rule, but it's one of those things that once you get it in front of the group and everyone can look at it differently, maybe there's some things we haven't fleshed out yet.
"The beauty of hybrid icing is it keeps the competition and the foot races for the puck but yet, hopefully, it can protect the players. Anything that improves players' safety while keeping the competitive spirit of the game intact, it seems a logical improvement to the game. I certainly think that has some support."
The hand-pass discussion was introduced by Canucks GM Mike Gillis, whose proposal is to introduce a two-minute penalty in the defensive zone to a player on the defensive team who commits a hand pass. The idea behind this is to help the offensive team in the offensive zone; just another way to create offense. This idea has potential. Again, it all depends on how the larger group reacts to it Tuesday.
And, finally, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford tabled a discussion in this group regarding changes on the fly, or the recent trend of teams cheating with long changes.
"You see one guy 30 feet from the bench and the other guy going out the other end of the bench and getting into the play," Rutherford said.
"It’s in the rulebook. We can tighten this up right away. Like tonight. It’s part of the rules.’’
RED LINE DISCUSSION/NEUTRAL-ZONE TRAP
This breakaway group discussed whether it would make sense to bring back the center red line for offside, the theory being that it would slow the game down and thus prevent some injuries. That got very little traction Monday in the breakaway group, so I doubt it’s heading anywhere. The bottom line is that the optics of slowing down the game are a no-go. The GMs took the red line out during the 2005 lockout to create more flow through the neutral zone.
“I think the product we have on the ice now is as good as we've ever put on in the history of the league," Leafs GM Brian Burke said. "It's fast, it's exciting for the fans, it's a great broadcast product and I am not interested in the red line going back in. I'm not sure how the room will come out on that. I think it will be a foolish change. Some teams' breakout is to hammer the puck up the wall and they have two forwards waiting at the far blue line. It's not exciting. You have a tennis effect in the game, where if you're a fan in the building, you're going like this and that troubles me at times, but the price tag we got for that is the speed that's in the game now. The game, I think, is just a wonderful product right now. I'm not interested in putting the red line back in."
GOALTENDING INTEFERENCE/REVIEW OF TRAPAZOID
This group had a goalie focus. First, there was debate about whether video review should be expanded to include controversial goals when goalies appear to be interfered with. The sense from the breakaway group Monday was that there wasn’t an appetite to give the war room in Toronto more to review. So there doesn’t appear to be enough traction on that one.
The trapezoid, another 2005 lockout addition, annoys some GMs. This group Monday discussed whether it’s time to eliminate it. The theory is that defensemen are facing needless hits from forecheckers on soft dump-ins because goalies can’t come out and play the puck in the trapezoid.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson first proposed to eliminate it three years ago but got little support. In Monday’s breakaway group, there appeared to be a bit more traction, although my sense is that in the larger group Tuesday it will still fall short.
"We have more support and will take to it the bigger group tomorrow,’’ Wilson told ESPN.com Monday.
HITS ALONG BOARDS-EMBELLISHMENT/DELAY-OF-GAME PENALTY (PUCK OVER THE GLASS)/BEAR HUGS
OK, we had three distinctly different topics in this breakaway group.
The hits-along-the-boards discussion had to do with players purposely milking a hit to generating a boarding call -- a point of emphasis for the league this season. The GMs just want to make sure players who routinely embellish boarding calls get dealt with.
The delay-of-game/puck-over-the-glass item was tabled by Burke. His idea was that if a team is already killing a penalty and gets dinged for a delay-of-game/puck-over-the-glass penalty, that the penalty doesn’t get served until the first penalty is expired. The point here is that Burke feels the flipping the puck over the glass is an unlucky play and that a team shouldn’t have to go down 5-on-3 in that circumstance. His fellow GMs in the breakaway group, however, were not buying it Monday.
Burke also once again tabled the "bear hug" idea -- allowing players to wrap their hands around opposing players near the boards and not get called for holding. Burke has brought this up over the past few GMs meetings. His theory is that it would lead to fewer boarding incidents and injuries. But again, he didn’t get enough traction on it Monday.