A real game changer

Note: This article appears in ESPN The Magazine's Rules Issue, on news stands now.

Ask a fourth-line grinder or a front office exec what he'd like to alter about the NHL, and he'll likely say it's mostly fine the way it is. But this past August, about a third of the league's GMs and coaches, along with commissioner Gary Bettman, gathered at the Research, Development and Orientation Camp in Toronto to challenge that notion.

The event featured games as unorthodox as a Don Cherry blazer: The rink had just three faceoff circles, with a referee stationed on a lifeguard stand at the center-ice boards. In overtime, each team sat a skater every three minutes until a final two-on-two gave way to a shootout. "We don't want to wait until something is broken until we try to fix it," says Brendan Shanahan, vice president of hockey and business development for the NHL and the organizer of the two-day camp. "We thought it was a good time to start compiling information for that day when we do need to make some tweaks."

The game provided a forum to examine a few recurring complaints, from finding alternatives to the shootout (a pet peeve of Red Wings GM Ken Holland) to cracking down on faceoff infractions (for example, by moving centermen a foot back from the faceoff dot if they cheat on the draw). Shanahan says there are a dozen ideas from the camp that could eventually make their way into the rule book, and the league plans to hold the event again next summer.

While no formal changes are in the works just yet, several GMs took a shine to a proposed hybrid icing rule -- the first player to reach the faceoff dot, not the puck, gets the call -- that would help protect anyone flying down the rink from crashing into the end boards. "A lot of times you race back for the puck," says Capitals defenseman Mike Green. "It's just dangerous. If they can establish that rule, it would be great."

They're on it, Mike.