Change of pace

Ross McKeon
Yahoo! Sports

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The NHL Board of Governors were all talk and little action Friday, unless you count the afternoon shotgun on the lush Spanish Bay golf course, a short pitch from the shores of the deep, blue Pacific.

The two days of meetings wrapped up with all the heavy lifting accomplished late Thursday – rubber-stamping the schedule change and approving Nashville's transfer of sale from one local investor to another.

That left Friday morning for the exchange of ideas about what's happening on the ice.

"I think, for the most part, everybody is pleased," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We're keeping an eye on it, looking at trends and if things need to be tweaked, we want to be on top of it.

"No conclusions were reached, but we're continuing to watch the trends, obviously. Scoring is down a little, and we're looking at that."

Ah, the caveat at the end of the commissioner's thoughts.

When the NHL came flying out of the lockout with a crackdown on obstruction (hooking and holding mostly), an average of 6.2 goals were scored per game in October and November of 2005-06. The first two months of this season yielded an average of 5.4 goals per contest.

Part of Friday's meeting included a visit by Stephen Walkom, the director of NHL officiating, who showed a video comparing calls made (or not made) pre-lockout compared to what the standard is today.

Bettman said there is no comparison. So what's the reason for a downturn in scoring? It's a combination of goalies, who not only wear bigger equipment than 20 years ago, but are better skilled than ever, defense tactics that keep shooters to the outside and better coaching throughout the league.

Then again, who says it's so bad to have low-scoring games?

"Just because the goal scoring isn't as high as everybody would like it to be, I don't think there's anything wrong with the game. It's a terrific game," said Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather, who coached maybe the greatest offensive juggernaut in Edmonton some 25 years ago. "There are a lot of smart, tactical people playing the game the way it should be played."

Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs echoed that sentiment, and when it's coming from the chairman of the NHL's lords of the boards, it probably means changes aren't imminent.

Jacobs' team struggles to score with the best of them. The Bruins and their opponents combined for five or fewer goals in 15 of their first 23 games. The last two games in that stretch, however, produced a combined nine and seven goals.

"I think there's fluctuation going on here," said Jacobs, who admitted the board discussed the size of goalie equipment. "I don't think there are enough patterns there, in my opinion, to make an adjustment on it."

Bettman warned there would be no quick rush to judgment. No, the league is not implementing bigger nets next week. The ice size will never increase, not because of lost revenue due to displaced high-priced seats, but because sightlines in all the new buildings were designed for the current ice configuration and won't work if that size changes.

"We need to constantly poke and prod and be vigilant, but we need not be revolutionary, we need not be impatient," Bettman said. "We need to see how it evolves and how it all settles in, but if we need to make tweaks we shouldn't be afraid to do them if we're convinced that they're necessary."

The other fact not to be lost in this argument is it's not so much low scores that hurt the NHL, but rather teams dropping back and taking flow out of the game. There is nothing better than two teams flying up and down the ice, trading chances, locked in a physical battle for every patch of ice.

One after another, the governors insisted Friday that whatever change is suggested won't happen until there is sufficient research into a suggestion. The 3½ hours were well spent, even if nothing was really decided.

"It was a real positive, proactive discussion on how to make a great game even better," Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson said.

Sometimes the best change is no change.

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