Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Cross Checks [Print without images]

Wednesday, March 20, 2013
GMs make progress at shortened meetings

By Pierre LeBrun



TORONTO -- The NHL’s 30 GMs endorsed three key issues Wednesday, but the question now is whether the NHL Players’ Association will endorse them to make them a reality.

1. Grandfathering visors
Mathieu Schneider, the NHLPA's special assistant to the executive director, sounded very much in favor of this Wednesday and told GMs in the room that there appeared to be traction. A poll of the players this summer will decide whether the NHLPA signs off on grandfathering visors, and I predict it gets a green light. It’s about bloody time. The kids wear visors in junior, college and the AHL. Making visors mandatory for players entering the league makes so much sense one wonders what took so long.

"We talked a lot about it today and I’m certainly in favor of it," said Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, a longtime player in the NHL. "You lose a player for a year or maybe even a whole career for something that could have been avoided with the right protection ... especially when players are wearing visors in the AHL. It only makes sense."

2. Further reducing goalie equipment
NHL GMs recommended reducing the height of the goalie pad above the knee and making knee pads more tightly conformed and less bulky in size so as to create more room in the 5-hole.

"It was a really healthy discussion," said San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson, who tabled the agenda item. "We think it impacts the way the game is played. I think there’s going to be some progress. It’s something we’ve put off long enough."

Goalie equipment was readjusted in 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2010-11, but GMs felt Wednesday it wasn’t enough. But the league -- through goalie guru Kay Whitmore -- will need to work hard to convince NHL netminders that these changes are necessary.

"Obviously they want more goals, but I feel like, as goaltenders, we’re getting better as a position," Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer said Wednesday morning at Air Canada Centre. "You look around the league, there are more and more good goalies. When that happens, I guess they feel the need for more scoring and what do you do? You take away the advantages of the goalie?

"As goalies, we’ve already grown accustomed to the changes they’ve thrown at us [since 2005]. We’ve risen above it and gotten better and I hope it stops soon."

Of course, as one GM noted to ESPN.com Wednesday, if netminders won’t sign off on this, the alternative is to threaten bigger nets.

"Bigger nets would take away from the integrity of the game," Reimer said. "I don’t think you ever want to touch that. It’s a great game and the nets haven’t changed for 100 years. Why would you do it now?"

Tampa Bay star winger Martin St. Louis welcomes smaller goalie equipment, but says the problem of fewer scoring chances in today's game runs much deeper.

"It’s not just the goalie equipment to be honest, it’s also the amount of emphasis on the other side of the puck, the amount of back pressure in today’s game; there’s hardly any odd-man rushes because everyone backchecks hard," St. Louis said Wednesday morning. "We have less room. So it’s a combination of things, it’s not just the goalie equipment. I mean, sure, that [further reducing the size of goalie equipment] would help tremendously. But it’s not as if the goalies are getting better while the players are getting worse; everyone is getting better together. It’s the emphasis away from the puck, it’s harder to generate scoring chances."

3. Hybrid icing
The GMs decided Wednesday they’re finally in favor of it after years of debate and seeing the AHL test it in the first half of this season.

The problem, according to NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell, is the NHLPA informed the GMs Wednesday that the players seem to be favoring complete no-touch icing.

So unless there’s agreement here at the competition committee level, hybrid icing won’t make it in next season. Which is crazy. Hybrid icing would prevent injuries. The players and league need to find a solution here in June when the competition committee meets.

All in all, I have to admit that what I thought would be a waste of time Wednesday was actually a productive meeting.

"I was surprised, too," chuckled one GM.