They all met in one room for five hours Thursday afternoon at the Hilton Chicago O'Hare Airport — and, as expected, they emerged with no jolting news. However, the general consensus was everything discussed here may warrant further attention when they reconvene in Naples, Fla. from March 9-11.
"Today was just an opportunity to bring things up," Montreal GM Bob Gainey said. "Nothing will be changed this season. Things don't change in the middle of the season, but to get energy behind an idea it has to be placed in front of the group so they can see it, have a chance to absorb it and think about it so they can take a position on it."
There was a lot of discussion about medical procedures and standards in the wake of the Alexei Cherepanov tragedy in Russia, as well as some interesting ideas for rule changes presented by Gainey and St. Louis GM Larry Pleau.
The question the GMs are asking themselves is whether the medical screening of the players — undrafted, drafted prospects, and professionals — should include an echocardiogram (ECHO) as well as an electrocardiogram (EKG)?
An echocardiogram is basically an ultrasound of the heart and it is known to give a further analysis of any problems than those that could be detected in an EKG. The general assumption is that if Cherepanov, the Rangers No. 1 pick in 2007, had an ECHO done on him his life could have been spared, but his hockey career may have ceased.
Every team makes their players take an EKG, usually at the start of training camp, and the NHL tests every player at the Draft Combine as well. However, only a few teams currently make their players take an ECHO as well.
"There was a tragedy in the Chicago area — I think a high school football kid, and so at our prospects camp about three years ago we decided we'd do the echocardiogram just to add to the EKG," Chicago GM Dale Tallon told NHL.com. "We've had two or three different players in the last three years where we had extra testing done after something the EKG didn't show. It's been a benefit to us and it's important."
Making ECHO testing mandatory is tricky. Detroit GM Ken Holland said there are legal ramifications that must be investigated as well as NHLPA involvement. The cost of such testing does not seem to be a concern.
"I'd like it to be (mandatory)," Tallon said. "You'd hate to draft a player and have what happened to the Rangers happen. You don't want that to ever happen. That's a tragedy. We'd like to in every possible way prevent that from happening."
One of the things the NHL doesn't want to prevent is offense, which is why Pleau believes the League should investigate the merits of making delayed penalties last longer.
His idea is that if a penalty occurs in the attacking zone, the defensive team that committed the foul should not just have to touch the puck for the whistle to blow, but clear it completely out of the zone.
By doing that, the goalie of the attacking team would have more time to get off the ice for an extra attacker, which in turn could lead to more offensive chances and eventually goals.
"It's the same as what we have done coming out of the lockout, the same premise of trying to create offense and scoring opportunities," Pleau told NHL.com
Colin Campbell, the League's Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations, said Pleau's idea has merit and may require further discussion in the spring.
Gainey brought forth another interesting idea regarding blocked shots. He would like to see them limited, which in turn will foster more offense because more pucks would be getting through to the net.
Holland explained that the discussion centered around people leaving their feet or sliding to the ice to block a shot.
"The discussion today was you can have one skate on the ice and it's OK to block a shot, but if both skates are off the ice it would lead to a delay of game (penalty)," Holland said. "Again, we just had some discussions today. When we meet in March we can discuss the topics further."
Even Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough, who manages a team that employs a strict defensive system, expressed concern about creating more offense.
"At the end of the day it is always easier to improve your team defensively than it is offensively," Risebrough said. "It's based on encouraging defense. What we're trying to think of are ways not to discourage offense."
Campbell suggested that all ideas are welcome.
"Our challenge is to make the game more exciting and to create more chances," Campbell said. "People say we want more goals. It would be great, but we want more chances, more lead changes. We want fans and players to know that you do have a chance of winning a game even though you're down 3-1 in the third period. Just go back pre-lockout, Tampa and Calgary went seven games (in the Stanley Cup Final) and the first goal won every game. That's something we're challenged to stop."
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