BOCA RATON, Fla. – The biggest news to come out of the NHL general managers’ meetings might turn out to be this: a recommendation to dry-scrape the ice after regulation and switch ends in overtime. The thinking is that decent ice conditions and long line changes will lead to more OT goals and fewer shootouts.
There also might be a recommendation to let the referees review goalie interference on a TV monitor in the penalty box – at least in the preseason as a test.
That’s about it.
Though the GMs are discussing several ideas – including 3-on-3 overtime, expanded video review and a coach’s challenge – they know a change can have unintended consequences. A solution to one problem can cause other problems. They want to make the game better, not worse, and as the New York Rangers’ Glen Sather said: “We’ve had a track record of making it worse in some cases.” So they are cautious.
The GMs split into three groups of 10 on Monday, each focused on a set of issues. They will meet as a group of 30 on Tuesday and Wednesday. If they recommend a rule change, it will have to go through the competition committee and then the board of governors. This was the talk after the breakout sessions:
For years, the Detroit Red Wings’ Ken Holland has been trying to deemphasize the shootout. He has proposed a longer overtime – with four or five minutes of four-on-four followed by four or five minutes of three-on-three – so games would be decided by hockey and not skills competitions more often.
The GMs generally agree the shootout is too common. When they met in November, there seemed to be more support than ever before for three-on-three OT. Though 924 games this season, 74.9 percent of games were decided in regulation, 10.8 percent in overtime and 14.3 percent in shootouts.
But coming out of his breakout session, Holland said he wasn’t sure there was enough support for longer overtime or three-on-three OT. Sather called three-on-three OT “a bit of a pipe dream.” Some think it’s too radical. Some wonder whether it would lead to more scoring chances. Some worry about wear and tear.
“When it comes to the extra minutes added, you’re talking about your best players playing more,” said the Washington Capitals’ George McPhee. “They may play enough already. It might be back-to-back games, three games in four nights. How much are you using those guys? We don’t see three-on-three much anyway in hockey, and we think this works pretty well.”
There does seem to be support for dry-scraping the ice after regulation and switching ends for overtime. Dry-scraping the ice would improve the ice conditions enough for another five minutes, but it would take less time than flooding the ice. (There would not be another dry-scrape in the event of a shootout.) Switching ends would create long line changes, as in the second period, and could lead to mistakes and scoring chances. The effect might be greater four-on-four.
“We don’t need major tweaks here,” McPhee said. “This might be one.”
Another idea from this breakout group: The St. Louis Blues’ Doug Armstrong suggested separating the players on face-offs as in international competition, instead of letting them stand side by side. That might lead to less jostling for position, fewer centers kicked out of draws.
“Lots of support for that in our group,” Holland said. “We’ve got to take it to the big group.”
Expanded video review and coach’s challenge
On Jan. 18, the Detroit Red Wings scored when a puck hit the netting above the glass, fell onto the back of Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick and then dropped into the net. The referees missed it. The play wasn’t reviewable. So the Wings tied the game in the final minute of regulation, and they ended up winning in a shootout. They got two points when they should have gotten none, the Kings got one point when they should have gotten two and the standings in both conferences got screwed up.
It seems so simple: Look at the video and get it right. But it isn’t that simple.
“It’s just a lot more complicated than you think,” said the Kings’ Dean Lombardi.
Lombardi was in the same breakout group when the GMs debated the same issue a couple of years ago, and they came to the same conclusion then that they did now. Where do you draw the line?
On Jan. 18, the puck hit the netting and went right into the goal. But what if the puck hit the netting, the play continued for a bit and then the puck went in? Can you rewind the clock? How far can you rewind it? There have been clear offsides that led directly to goals. But what if there is an offside, the team cycles for a bit and then there is a goal? How far back can you go to tie cause and effect?
“When you see something like [what happened Jan. 18] that’s so far out in left field, you want to fix it,” Lombardi said. “But as soon as you try to fix it, well, does it apply to offsides? Does it apply to high sticks or all those other things that aren’t reviewable now?”
The coach’s challenge raises the same questions – and others.
“I’m an advocate of a coach’s challenge,” said the Oilers’ Craig MacTavish, a former coach. “But there’s got to be a lot of work done to boil it down and fine tune it so it makes sense. There’s some discussion about a coach’s ability to use that coach’s challenge to buy time as another timeout that is going to further delay the game.”
The Minnesota Wild’s Chuck Fletcher pointed out that extensive video review and the coach’s challenge work so well in the NFL because of the nature of football – quick, contained plays followed by pauses. Hockey has freeflowing play. “It’s much harder to take one little play out of the entire picture,” he said. He also said if there were a coach’s challenge, he would have to hire another video person to watch for potential challenges.
“Your most important resource is your officials,” Lombardi said. “Get the best and the brightest, and train them. That will solve a lot of your problems.”
Another issue in this breakout group: kicked-in goals. A goal is disallowed if there is a “distinct kicking motion.” MacTavish said the initial reason for that was safety, and he sees few dangerous plays – and a lot of gray area.
“When you see an incident, you’re not really sure whether it’s a goal or not a goal still,” MacTavish said. “So my sense is, you’d really like to default to allowing the goal unless it’s a very distinct, obvious and dangerous play.”
A group of GMs went over a series of video clips of plays around the net. What should be goalie interference? What could be reviewed – and how should it be reviewed? By the referees watching a TV monitor in the penalty box? By NHL hockey operations in Toronto?
The Calgary Flames’ Brian Burke said the group would make a proposal to the 30 GMs on Tuesday. “I don’t know if we made progress or not, but the proposal would be that you have a television monitor in the penalty box and that referee could review the call, rather than abdicating the responsibility to Toronto,” Burke said. “I think it’s worth looking at, maybe in the preseason.”
Several GMs pointed out how the game is played today, with defenses collapsing in front of the net and offenses crashing the net in response. “All the plays now that are goals, in most cases, there’s some kind of foot in the crease,” said the Ottawa Senators’ Bryan Murray. “I’m not interested in that. But if the goaltender is not allowed to make a play on the shot, then we should we get the call as correct as we can.”
“The goalie has to be able to make a save,” said the Dallas Stars’ Jim Nill. “If a defending player pushes an offensive player into the goalie, now how do you call that? We looked at video over and over, there are so many circumstances that come into play.”
“Some goalies are pretty good at embellishing hits,” Sather said. “You can skate by a guy and a slight breeze will knock him over, and it looks like he has been hit by a cannonball. There are still situations where a goaltender needs to be protected. There are only so many of them in the league, and they need to be protected. It’s a pretty dicey topic.”
Aren’t they all?