The state of the game in the NHL is on solid ground.
At least that’s the belief by the league’s general managers as they head into their annual meetings from March 6-8. As all 31 GMs of member clubs convene in Boca Raton to discuss NHL on-ice and off-ice business – Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee will be present for the first time at one of these events – the group will be looking at tweaks, and not exactly seismic shifts to the game.
“The league is in a pretty good spot,” Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said. “I think we’re going to sit down and talk about the state of the game, how to grow it and make it better. I don’t think there are any real hot topics.”
That’s not to say that the general managers won’t make any recommendations during the meetings that can change the NHL moving forward. For example, the league’s bye-week has struck a nerve as teams have swooned coming out of it. Also, there is a belief that offside calls need a small change for clarity’s sake.
The coach’s challenge is another topic that could be discussed since it always seems to produce some level of controversy at various points during the season.
When so many of the league’s power brokers are in one room, ideas that haven’t been broached yet publicly can be tossed around that could eventually lead to new rules down the road.
Here are some topics that the general managers could bring up and how they could lead to some adjustments moving forward.
The maiden season of the bye-week has mostly led to mixed results. The players love it because it gives them a mini vacation in the middle of the season. The general managers and coaches seem to dislike it because it has condensed the schedule and lessened practice time.
The biggest issue of the bye-week though is that it seems to put teams coming off their breaks at a clear disadvantage with all combining for a losing rcord. But there is a belief is a scheduling tweak could address the wins and losses issue.
“I think there will be talks about, will it be two teams that have the same bye-week have to play at the same time (when they come back)?” Nill said.
Essentially, this would end the perceived hindrance to teams coming off a bye-week since they’ll be playing groups that also had just been off for several days.
While this would clean up some of the end results of a bye-week, it won’t change some of the management and coaching complaints about the new scheduling quirk and lack of practice time.
But really, how the bye-week is utilized next season depends on if the NHL ends up going to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. This could also dramatically alter the schedule and make the bye-week a less important issue.
“You know what – is it here to stay? I don’t know what the league and the PA negotiated on, was it a two-year trial run? The Olympics affects it. So are there different scenarios? Yeah there are scenarios that go with it,” Nill said.
As an outgrowth of the coach’s challenge and trying to figure out how to clearly call offside, the league’s general managers could try to decide out how to visibly define the rule differently. USA Today reported that the plane of the blue line could determine offside. Rule 83.1 states that, “A player is offside when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line.”
This means if a player’s skate isn’t on the ice and above the blue line, he is offside. Such a rule change would reportedly make this play onside and lead to more goals.
Another general manager pointed out that this was discussed last season, but there wasn’t a resolution on a rule change. That could happen this week.
The coach’s challenge continues to be a hot button issue in the NHL with controversy continuing to pop up every now and then.
This discussion point happened a year ago with the general managers, with a conclusion that the challenge had taken the “egregious” mistakes out of the game. Also, the NHL said it would put in blue line cameras for the playoffs in order to ensure the offside calls weren’t missed.
While the system is not considered perfect, general managers seem fine with it currently.
“I think the consensus is it works well. The coach has to manage his game … I think the second part is the reason it’s there is ‘let’s make sure we get the right call,’” Nill said. “It’s not totally there yet, but technology is getting there to where we can make better decisions. I think those decisions will come quicker as we move along too as the technology gets better. I think overall I think everybody likes the way the coach’s challenge has worked.”
McPhee Returns, Vegas Represented
The Vegas Golden Knights will finally have a seat at the table at a major NHL meeting. The team completed its $500 million transaction to enter the league, which means McPhee will be able to voice concerns and opinions with his fellow general managers. The Golden Knights were not involved with the most recent Board of Governors meetings because their purchase was not finished.
Recently, McPhee was vocal about the significance of being able to attend these particular meetings.
“It’s important for us to be at the table at the GMs meetings because there are important decisions regarding the league and all of hockey in general are being made there and Las Vegas should be heard,” McPhee said.
McPhee’s friends in the general manager community were also happy that he would be back at the event and looked forward to seeing him again. McPhee was previously the general manager of the Washington Capitals from 1997-98 through 2013-14.
“It’s going to be nice to see George back here. We’ve seen George on the road out there and we’ve seen him quite a bit so he has been a part of it but now he’s officially back in the saddle here,” Nill said. “He’s a good man who will do a great job for them so it’s going to be nice to get him back in.”
It will also be the first time general managers will go over expansion rules with McPhee in the room, which will Vegas a voice when concerns are raised.
“I think we all know what the rules are. We’ve kind of known those for the last three or four months. But we’ll probably have a refresher course on it, but it’ll be good to have George back in our room,” Nill said.
Goaltenders and Concussion Protocol
Late last month, Arizona Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith was removed at the 4:29 mark of the third period in game against the Anaheim Ducks by a concussion spotter after the goaltender’s helmet was knocked off. Smith was eventually cleared to return with 90 seconds left but was critical about this decision, which was triggered by the league’s enhanced concussion spotter program.
The Coyotes were up 3-1 at the time Smith was taken out and ended up winning 3-2.
“But that instance was one that can’t happen,” Smith said according to the Arizona Republic. “It’s just a frustrating time. It’s the most important time of the game and like I said, it’s just an important game when those points matter for a goalie. If it’s a playoff game, you can’t afford for your goalie to be missing 12 or 13 minutes of one of the most important games of the year.”
Smith also pointed out that trying to set off a concussion spotter on a goaltender could be a strategic move late in a game, though that’s something that has yet to happen.
“What stops a fourth liner from going and bumping into a goalie?” he said. “It’s just a two-minute penalty to get your starting goalie out? I don’t think it’s happened in a playoff game yet, but I’m sure it will.”
At the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting in December, the league didn’t see a problem with the protocol and believed it was a way to protect the players.
“It’s like any injury. If there’s an injury that’s occurred, whether it’s ankle, leg, we see guys go off blocking shots and stuff,” Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said back then. “You treat it like that and it’s part of the protocol and part of the importance that is placed on player safety.”
Still, Smith isn’t the only high profile player to complain about the program, which means the topic could again be discussed.
Other League Business
At this event last season, NHL sold the general managers on the Showtime all-access series that aired during the last two sounds of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It doesn’t seem like something that groundbreaking involving broadcast will be brought to the table this year, but the league will be presenting an update of the last 150 days and the Centennial events – and updating the general managers on all the events to come on the calendar.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety will also be present in order to answer any pressing questions by the general managers about rules and suspensions along with other issues in their realm.
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