TORONTO -- Issues surrounding player safety -- highlighted by a potential huge step toward mandatory visor usage -- dominated the NHL's seven-hour General Managers meeting Wednesday at the League office.
"Our managers are for grandfathering visors to all players coming into the League," NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said after the meeting. "We are at about 73 to 75 percent visor use amongst our players. The [National Hockey League Players' Association] said they had some traction in that area. They approached their players about that and they said they gave us a stat of a few years ago where the majority of their players were not for grandfathering, but now they feel like there is some sentiment toward going in that area. Our managers are for that."
Mathieu Schneider, the special assistant to the executive director for the NHLPA, said the increase in the amount of its members wearing visors suggests the membership may have different views on the subject than when the subject was formally broached in 2009.
Every player who enters the League has worn some form of facial protection at every level of competition in his career, building a comfort level with visors among the Union membership.
"I think by the sheer number of players wearing them, I think you have seen a big change," Schneider said after taking part in part of the meeting. "That's going to be something we will be talking to the players about, certainly this year.
"I'm certainly an advocate -- a bit of hypocrite myself because I played my entire career without one. The game is extremely fast, and guys come into the League having had to have worn a visor before. We are definitely going to talk to the guys about grandfathering them in."
If the players express an interest in having mandatory visor use grandfathered, it would have to go to the Competition Committee and the Board of Governors for approval before it could be enacted.
The League also announced Wednesday it is advocating the implementation of a hybrid icing rule to replace the present standard of touch-up icing, as well as addressing several other player-safety issues. Also, the League said it would like to see a reduction in the size of a goaltender's leg pads and would continue an examination of the issue led by Kay Whitmore, senior manager of hockey operations and goaltending equipment.
In a hybrid-icing world, the determination of icing would be made before a player touched the puck. Instead, a race to a fixed point before the goal line would be used, and if the icing team won the race, icing would be negated.
The owners believe such a change would reduce the occurrence of dangerous collisions into the end boards during contested races for the puck.
"The majority of our managers would like to see us use hybrid icing next year," Campbell said. "The Players' Association told us they felt their players didn't like hybrid icing and were for no-touch icing. Our next meeting is the Competition Committee meeting in June, and they are going to address that with their players because our managers right now are in favor of using hybrid next year."
Among the topics addressed during the breakout portion of the meeting in the morning was a discussion on boarding that was more passionate and involved than any of the others.
The managers discussed further study of boarding infractions with the goal of keeping the dangerous hits along the boards out of the game while still allowing board battles and other forms of hitting. The growing trend of players presenting their back before a hit along the boards has exacerbated the issue.
"Our concern at this point is a lot of players have been raised with the ability to expose their back to protect the puck, and even the slightest shove can put a player into the boards and can often lead to a penalty, and these penalties lead to embellishment," senior vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy said. "The whole boarding issue was discussed and bantered around and really got nowhere other than that we want to continue to look at it and we want to make sure there is an onus on safety and that we don't want to take hitting out of the game. We'll continue to watch and move forward."
One of the biggest hot-button issues was the concept of a coach's challenge being instituted in some form. But it gained little traction after many of the nuances of the idea were explored in breakout sessions.
"I think we need a lot more talk about that," Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray said. "I think there are ways we can do some things that don't have to be a coach's challenge. It was talked about at great length."
The managers, in essence, concluded there were too many variables to come up with coherent parameters of what could be reviewed. Goaltender interference, offside, pucks in the mesh, and hand-pass violations were mentioned.
"There were just too many situations that were brought up that would potentially slow the game down," vice president of hockey operations Kris King said. "If we rule on goalie-interference plays, we are going to take more goals down than we are going to put up in a game where we want more scoring chances. Once we played devil's advocate with a lot of their questions, they just didn't feel that now is the right time to implement a coach's challenge."
There was, however, an appetite to review the assessment of a four-minute high-sticking penalty to make sure it was made correctly. There is a belief it is a potentially momentum-shifting call that can be easily reviewed to make sure the infraction was not committed by a teammate.
"If you are going to review anything, you should review a four-minute high sticking where his own teammate's stick cuts him," Campbell said. "That's something we should review. If you are going to have a four-minute high stick where the referee thinks it is the opposition's high stick and it was his teammate's high stick when you looked at a video review. That is the one that they said, 'Yeah, you can go down the path on that one.' That would be a hockey ops review, not a coach's challenge."
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