TORONTO – First, he called it “Groundhog Day.” Later, he called it “another Groundhog Day.”
NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell has been to many meetings of the league’s general managers. They talk about the same issues. They make slow progress.
After a seven-hour meeting Wednesday, there were three concrete ideas: Heightened awareness of goaltender interference by referees on shootouts; video review to see if the puck stops in shootouts; and, perhaps, expanding video review to include four-minute high-sticking penalties in the future. There were three other ideas that could be implemented soon but aren’t certain. The rest will have to wait until Gary Bettman sees his shadow or something.
The three with potential:
• Hybrid icing: The GMs recommended it. The rule would whistle icing plays dead unless the offensive player is winning the race to the puck, preserving the race but protecting defensemen from dangerous hits. The rule was tested in the American Hockey League during the lockout.
But the idea now goes to the competition committee, a body comprised of five players and five NHL executives, and the NHL Players’ Association would rather keep the status quo or even go to no-touch instead.
“Our managers had no time for the no-touch rule,” Campbell said. “The majority of our managers would like to see us use the hybrid icing next year. The players’ association told us they felt their players didn’t like hybrid icing.”
• Visors: The GMs favor a grandfathered rule. That would require players entering the NHL to wear visors as they were required to do at lower levels, but it would allow players already in the league to keep their personal choice.
The NHLPA has encouraged its members to wear visors but has supported personal choice. With about 73 percent of players wearing visors today, there seems to be more sentiment among the membership for a grandfathered rule. Mathieu Schneider, the special assistant to NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, said the union would probably poll the players.
If the players are in favor, the rule almost certainly would go to the competition committee and then to the NHL Board of Governors for approval. Campbell said the NHL would rather work with the union, but as it could with hybrid icing, the board of governors could approve the rule change on its own. The union would have to file a grievance if it wanted to stop it.
“That would be an interesting grievance to an impartial judge,” Campbell said. “We’re trying to protect the players.”
• Smaller goalie equipment: The GMs did not talk about bigger nets. They did talk about keeping goalies protected while reducing the amount of net they cover as much as possible – cutting the length of the pads, for example.
Problem is, every goalie is different.
“It’s not just a simple fix,” Campbell said. “We’re going to cut two inches off the top of the pads, an inch off the width of the pads. It’s not that easy.”
NHL goalie guru Kay Whitmore has been tasked with finding a solution soon. He will work with the goaltenders and manufacturers.
“There were some interesting numbers put forward today, and I think we have to study them,” Ducks GM Bob Murray said. “But I think that is something that is going to move along fairly quickly here.”
Said Campbell: “It’s a frustrating project, but it is something that I think has really affected the game in the past 10 years.”
As for the rest …
• Coach’s challenge: Oh, the GMs were interested.
“They came out flying,” Campbell cracked. “They wanted to challenge the drop of the puck at the start of the game.”
Ha. How about offside? Remember the Colorado Avalanche and Matt Duchene? The Predators do.
“That’s one call I’d like to see challenged,” Campbell said. “When the Colorado-Nashville offside took place, it was embarrassing. It was the lead on every sports program what an awful play that was. So it’s embarrassing to the game, embarrassing to our officials, to everyone. But after discussing what you’d have to do to review it, it was difficult.”
The more the GMs talked about all the different types of plays that could be challenged and how they would be challenged, the more the idea ran out of steam.
“There’s just too many situations that different guys brought up that would potentially slow the game down,” said Kris King, vice president of hockey ops.
“We also made it apparent, the way we see it in video review, if we rule on goalie interference plays, there’s a good chance we’re going to take more goals down than we’re going to add in a game where we want more scoring, more scoring chances. “Once we played devil’s advocate with a lot of their questions, they just didn’t feel now was the right time to implement a coach’s challenge. We want to look at it further.”
• Boarding/embellishment: The GMs and hockey ops execs are concerned that players have been raised to turn their backs to protect the puck, even when facing the boards. That leads to dangerous situations. That leads to hits and shoves into the boards. That leads to injuries and penalties. That leads to embellishment.
“There was passionate conversation about that topic,” Campbell said.
One idea was to go back to posting lists of divers, but taking away the automatic one-game suspension for a third strike. Ultimately it didn’t get enough traction.
“We really got nowhere other than we want to continue to look at it,” said Mike Murphy, senior VP of hocke ops. “We want to make sure there’s an onus on safety. We want to make sure that we don’t take hitting out of the game.”
• Increasing scoring: Among the tweaks suggested: If you take a penalty, the faceoff is in your zone. If the offensive team shoots the puck out, the faceoff stays in the offensive zone instead of coming out into the neutral zone.
“Now, that sounds boring,” Campbell said. “But what kind of things can we do to increase offense in the game – just little things?”
At this point, they’re just ideas.
• Fighting: The GMs did review the OHL’s new quota system, and they did talk about visors and fighting, because they don’t want players taking off their helmets to fight. But that was it. To the GMs, fighting – even staged fighting – is not on the agenda.
That’s only Groundhog Day in the media.