The five general managers representing the Southeast Division were in pretty good spirits this week in sunny Boca Raton, Fla., where they joined the League's other 25 executives at the NHL general managers meetings.
Much was accomplished in the GMs' attempt to reach a solution to eliminate hits to the head, with a recommendation for more stringent penalties being sent to the Competition Committee and the NHL's Board of Governors.
Florida GM Randy Sexton was witness to the hit that triggered much of the debate -- the Oct. 24 shot Panthers forward David Booth absorbed from Philadelphia's Mike Richards. When asked if he thought the new rule would help curtail those types of hits, Sexton gave his approval.
"I think it's a terrific decision," Sexton told NHL.com. "The committee and group of GMs put a lot of time and effort into it. We've always believed that we need to do what was right and I'm very comfortable with the recommendation going forward. It's the right thing to do."
The recommendation that was unanimously agreed upon by the GMs reads: "A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."
Sexton didn't speculate on whether Richards' hit on Booth would have received supplemental discipline.
"I'd prefer to look forward than backward, quite frankly," he said. "I think that the Booth hit was an unfortunate type of hit within the rules as they were defined at that point in time. It resulted in no suspension and I think it's fair to say that, as a group, that was the type of hit we needed to get out of our game."
In addition to the big issue on the agenda, the managers were willing to offer some perspective on other topics with NHL.com. In case you missed them earlier this week, here are a few of the more interesting responses from each of the five managers representing the Southeast Division.
Don Waddell, Atlanta Thrashers
NHL.com: What is your draft-day philosophy?
Waddell: "We used to take the (next best player available), but I think now we're in a situation where you have (Evander) Kane and (Zach) Bogosian, so we can start looking at particular positions, too. Obviously, if there's a clear-cut player that's better than the next, we'll probably take him, but now we can start looking at particular needs with the way our young players have come along."
NHL.com: What do you enjoy most about your job and what's most agonizing?
Waddell: "Certainly I enjoy the pressure that comes with the job of putting a hockey team together and watching it every night. Probably the most disappointing thing is when the team doesn't perform to a level that you feel they're capable of reaching.
Randy Sexton, Florida Panthers
NHL.com: What have you liked about your team to this point in the season?
Sexton: "We'll push very hard between now and the end of the year to win every game we can and grab every point. What I'm pleased with is that we're injecting more of our younger players into the lineup. Shawn Matthias has been playing more after the trade deadline. The fact we moved some of our veteran defensemen meant (Dmitry) Kulikov would pick up extra minutes and (Keaton) Ellerby would also see more time in the lineup; they've both been terrific. We called up (Michal) Repik for Colorado (on Thursday) and he also might play in San Jose (on Saturday). So that's all part of the strategy to get more of our younger players in the lineup and let them play. As an organization, we're determined to push as hard as we can while, at the same time, retooling our team."
NHL.com: Could you fill us in on your goaltending situation and what the future holds?
Sexton: "Jacob Markstrom's contract in Sweden is up at the end of this year and the plan is to sign him and bring him to North America next year. We also have a young goalie named Marc Cheverie (a junior) at Denver University, who we'll move forward and sign, as well. We think that combined with the other young guys we have in the organization, the future looks good for goaltending.
Jim Rutherford, Carolina Hurricanes
NHL.com: You must be pleased with what you accomplished at the trade deadline. Entering the 2010 Entry Draft, the Hurricanes have 11 picks in seven rounds.
Rutherford: "We cleaned up a lot of things and were able to do that and save some money at the same time. We cleaned things up for what we'll do in the summertime, and at the same time didn't gut our team because we got players back from injury and have still remained a competitive team. Our priority is to make the playoff race interesting. I expect the team to have the same work ethic as we've had the last couple of weeks. We probably sit in the strongest position among any team to move up in the draft with those three second-round picks we have. We're positioned very well for this year's draft.
NHL.com: Carolina is 14-4-1 in its last 19 games, including 9-1-1 without an injured Cam Ward in net. Are your encouraged by this?
Rutherford: "We got healthy. Every year there are different times in the schedule where your team is tired and we were going through losing streaks and just couldn't get out of it. Now I feel we're catching other teams at a time when they're tired. It's just all those things have added up."
Brian Lawton, Tampa Bay Lightning
NHL.com: How excited are you about the future of this organization?
Lawton: "Very. We identified what our needs were last year as a group and we went out and addressed them in July (with the additions of defensemen Mattias Ohlund, Matt Walker and Kurtis Foster, forward Alex Tanguay and goalie Antero Niittymaki). We added depth in several key areas. The thing I'm most proud of is we did it on a limited budget. That was all coupled with us wanting to draft well and we were fortunate to get Victor Hedman and add Carter Ashton and Richard Panik through the draft. When I started we weren't an organization good at drafting or developing players. That's an area we need to strengthen, but I recognize it'll take some time. We made a nice addition (at the trade deadline) with the acquisition of Teddy Purcell. We moved out an older player (Jeff Halpern) and got a pick, as well. We're sticking to our plan and feel our club has what it takes to make the playoffs this year. They've got to go out and prove that over the last number of games here."
NHL.com: You have to be pretty impressed with the way Steven Stamkos has answered all the critics since the opening 40 games of his rookie season.
Lawton: "I don't hear people talking about the struggles that he had in his first 40 games as a pro now (when he scored just 4 goals). It's a thing of the past. He's a great kid. He's sincere, humble and everything you'd want in a young athlete. He's developing his leadership abilities on the fly and that's really the next fun thing we'll see out of him -- his development as a world-class leader. And yet, he just turned 20 (on Feb. 7).
George McPhee, Washington Capitals
NHL.com: How confident are you in your team down the stretch, heading into the playoffs?
McPhee: "I've been very pleased with our team. We've never been in this position before (with 15 games remaining). We like it and we're going to keep our fingers crossed and hope we can continue playing well because it's been a terrific year so far. I think we've done a good job of having a good team on the ice and what we'll have on the ice next year because we've drafted well. We have a lot of young players ready to play if we can't get certain people signed (during free agency), so we're comfortable with the shape of our organization right now. But we'll address things at the right time in the summer. For now, it's about playing the game and the focus is on trying to win."
NHL.com: What is your draft-day philosophy, and has it changed at all over the years?
McPhee: "I think the philosophy stays the same. We're pleased with the way we've drafted the past 5-6 years and I don't anticipate changing anything. You take the best player sitting there and then address other needs in other ways through trades or free agency. This year's draft seems like a good one."
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