BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The NHL is in a good place on the ice and that was reflected in the workload of the League's general managers on the first day of the annual March meeting here.
The GMs spent Monday in breakout sessions, discussing various ways to address minor issues. It was a departure from the tone of past meetings when controversies were addressed or solutions to troublesome trends were sought by the managers.
"You're always looking and talking and tweaking, but the good news is you don't have to find a problem," Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. "The game is in pretty good shape right now. Real good shape. There's no real need for drastic change. But that's part of what this group does."
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Without a mandate to address major issues, the managers discussed potential tweaks to the game in four separate breakout groups, according to Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan.
Video review was one topic, specifically whether referees should be allowed access to replays in all review situations. Presently the referees see only the reviews initiated by a coach's challenge. Under the new proposal, they would play a part in reviews initiated by the Situation Room, a process in which the officials are not involved. The Situation Room would maintain final say in those reviews.
"As long as it doesn't delay the game," said Stephen Walkom, NHL senior vice president and director of officiating.
Speed of play was another topic. Encouraging goalies not to freeze the puck was one of the possibilities debated, with a suggestion that the defending team would be prohibited from making a line change after a stoppage from a puck frozen by a goalie.
The framework of some penalties also was discussed. The ability of referees to be able to review an infraction before assessing a major penalty was one option presented. There also was debate about making certain infractions, when committed during the five-minute overtime period, a one-minute penalty instead of two minutes.
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Another session was focused on player safety, including examining punches to unsuspecting opponents and minor changes to the wording of the roughing and charging penalties.
These topics will be discussed by the entire group of managers during the main meeting Tuesday. It's possible some minor rule changes could be proposed after the discussion.
"We're always looking at the little parts of the game to make it better," said Colin Campbell, NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations. "That was what we did in '04-05 after the lockout and the one thing that [former Montreal Canadiens GM] Bob Gainey had said at the time, he was on the Competition Committee, was let's give the advantage to offense and punish defense.
"That's when we came up with the puck-over- the-glass penalty. Team is under pressure, they throw the puck over the glass, let's give them a two-minute penalty. Little things like that. We've been trying to make changes along the way."
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The changes are working, a key reason why the GMs don't feel the pressure to do anything major this time.
Arguments about the need for more offense, a part of this meeting for several years, have been muted because goal scoring has increased, as evidenced by numbers provided by the NHL to the managers.
An average of 6.1 goals have been scored per game this season, the highest since the 2005-06 season (6.2).
Scoring is up three percent from last season, 10 percent from the 2016-17 season and 13 percent from the 2015-16 season.
"It's an exciting game right now," Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said.
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Much of the increased scoring is due to an increase in even-strength goals, which have accounted for 77 percent of the scoring this season, the highest percentage since the 1977-78 season. Power-play goals have accounted for 19.7 percent of the goals, the lowest percentage since 1972-73, when it was 19.1 percent. In 2005-06, power-play goals accounted for 33.5 percent of the scoring, the highest percentage in League history.
"I think you've got to give the players credit, there is a great amount of conformance in the game relative to the rules," Walkom said. "With the video today, the players are better educated on what is a hook, what is a hold, what is a slash. We have more goals scored today on 5-on-5 play than ever before. It's not due to enforcement per se, it's the threat of enforcement. Maybe that's a great byproduct of the work that's been done by the GMs for years."
The number of comeback wins also is on the rise, another sign of the health of the game. Forty-three percent of the games through Sunday have featured a comeback, the second-highest in NHL history. Thirty-five percent of last season's games featured a comeback. Teams have erased a multiple-goal deficit in 12 percent of the games this season, the highest percentage in NHL history.
"It took a while to get there, but we've worked with the managers on different aspects of the game to open it up and to make it more free-flowing, and I think the general managers of the National Hockey League, to their credit, they've helped all hockey as all leagues have adapted to the rules of the National Hockey League," Campbell said. "I think it's helped hockey across the world. We understand that we are the League that other leagues look to, so we have that responsibility to make the game good."
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