BOCA RATON, FL -- Though the NHL's general managers are against proposing any major rule changes at present, they agree that some minor tweaks to the overtime format and faceoff procedures could make for a better on-ice product as early as next season.
The general managers came out of the Tuesday session at the Boca Beach Club with the consensus to make three formal recommendations to the Competition Committee, which next meets in June.
The managers will recommend that the hash marks on the faceoff circle be separated by two additional feet, from three feet to five feet. They would also like to change the penalty for a faceoff violation. Instead of removing a player that commits a faceoff foul from the draw, the player will be forced to move 12-18 inches back. Finally, the GMs are expected to propose that teams should switch ends for overtime, creating the "long-change" factor.
Any rule changes have to be approved by the GMs, the Competition Committee and the NHL's Board of Governors before they can be implemented.
"The big takeaway from this meeting is I think the managers are really happy with where the game is right now, but to the extent there are tweaks that need Board of Governors' approval, hopefully we'll be in a position to present it to the Board in June for those tweaks," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.
The idea for separating the hash marks mirrors the International Ice Hockey Federation rule, which was used in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The idea, proponents say, is to create more separation between the players on the wings to reduce the amount of congestion around the faceoff dot when the puck is dropped. It will also keep players further apart to limit the amount of jostling before the puck drop.
"That eliminates the scrum along the boards and allows the quicker player to get to the puck and generate scoring opportunities," said St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong, who made the proposal after taking note of the faceoffs during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Another area of the faceoff procedure the GMs want to address is the battle between the players contesting the faceoffs. Currently, a team committing a faceoff violation has its man taking the draw thrown out of the faceoff, replaced by another player. In the current system, if another foul is committed by the same team on the same faceoff, a two-minute delay of game penalty is imposed.
Under the new proposal, the penalty for a first violation would result in the same player being forced to take the second attempt at the draw, but he would be moved 12 to 18 inches further away from the faceoff dot. The exact measurement has not been finalized. A second violation would be by the same player and the GMs feel the officials would be more apt to call the penalty.
This variation was tested at the NHL's Research & Development Camp in 2011. Though the offending player is at a disadvantage for the second attempt at the faceoff, faceoff winning percentages did not decrease dramatically.
The GMs, however, feel this change would add integrity to the first faceoff because the person taking the draw would want to avoid having the disadvantage of being moved back, giving up his leverage to win a faceoff. They also feel it would eliminate the coaching tactic of having a winger come in to the circle with the intent on committing a violation to buy time, particularly on the faceoff immediately after an icing.
"We all know now it's a gimmick," Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said. "A lot of teams put their left winger in, try to get the other guy thrown out or get in a little thing to buy time [so] he gets thrown out. The center on that line would come in and then he would take the faceoff. We're just trying to clean that up."
For overtime, the GMs believe that by switching sides in the overtime period they will create the "long-change" dynamic which exists in the second period. Historically, the second period has been the most offensive and most penalized period in the game because players are required to skate further to make a line change, creating more mistakes which leads to more scoring chances.
The GMs are hopeful that switching ends for overtime will reduce the amount of games which advance to the shootout. Since the shootout was implemented in 2005, approximately 57 percent of the games which extend beyond regulation have been decided in a shootout. The USHL, a Tier 1 junior hockey league in the United States, started requiring teams to change ends for overtime this season and has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of games ending in overtime.
It's also possible that the GMs propose to clean the ice before overtime as a way to give the players a fresher sheet of ice for the five-minute 4-on-4 session. The discussion now is focused on either doing a dry scrape of the entire ice surface or just having the ice crew shovel off the snow before overtime instead of the shootout.
"What we decided to do was go back to the players and get their views with respect to ice maintenance before overtime," Daly said. "The two things we talked about were a full dry scrape or just a shovel maintenance that we typically do three times a period but don't do before the start of overtime. The thought process was maybe that was enough in maintaining the ice before overtime."
The GMs are also interested in seeing more kicked-in goals allowed as a way to increase scoring, but Daly said that is a rules interpretation issue and should not require the approval of the Competition Committee or the Board of Governors. However, Daly said they would discuss the rules interpretation with the Competition Committee, similar to when the League amended the language for Rule 48 prior to this season.
"There is a lot of gray area," Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish said. "The frustrating part for me, as well as I'm sure Hockey Operations, is when you see an incident you're not really sure whether it's a goal or not a goal still. So my sense is you'd really like to default to allowing the goal unless it's a very distinct, obvious and dangerous play."
Additionally, there was more discussion Tuesday on potential additions to video review. But Daly said the GMs have not reached a consensus on how to proceed because they are concerned with how far they should go with video review and are still discussing if it should include a coach's challenge element.
Daly, though, said the managers are interested in potentially adding a video monitor in the penalty-box area to allow the officials to review goals which might have been scored because of goalie interference. He said that could be tested in the preseason.
"Do we blend it into a coach's challenge? Do we keep the coach's challenge out of it? Is every one reviewed? Does a referee monitor in the penalty box instead of going to Toronto and having them see it?" Armstrong said. "It was great dialogue, and there was really no consensus coming out of it. It's something we need to continue to explore.
"You can't come to a three-day meeting and say, 'Here's the problem, here's the solution, set in stone let's move forward.' You try and inch these things along. You don't want to come back two days later. You're talking to your coach about it ... and the ship has sailed and it's in the rulebook."
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer