NHL general managers always are thinking about ways to improve their teams. For these past two days they have been gathered in Toronto, along with their assistants, to discuss and contemplate ways to improve the game, as well.
"Improve" may not capture the true essence of their intentions. Enhancing the game and ensuring player safety, while keeping the elements of the game that make it exciting, are at the forefront of their minds.
These meetings allow the GM's to make suggestions on a wide range of topics; some of which will be given more time and debate, while others will be dismissed after a brief discussion. It is a perfect forum to hear the various opinions in the room and to consider what the potential implications may be if a change is made.
The NHL general managers have backgrounds as players, coaches, managers and executives, some with experience in the League dating back to the 1960s. There are recently retired players and long-serving GMs like Glen Sather
, David Poile and Lou Lamoriello who can offer a wide-ranging perspective on any proposal.
This week, there is significant concern about the prevalence of "head shots" in the game. It is one of the most complex issues in the sport.
Do you hit a player who is unsuspecting? Is it the player who's unsuspecting, or unaware in some instances, who is responsible? Does the responsibility remain with the player who is delivering the hit to stop short of delivering such a blow? What are the penalties to be levied against a player in a sport where the action is fast and the intensity high?
Doug Wilson, a Norris Trophy winner as a player, competed without a helmet. He brings a unique perspective to the discussion of blows to the head. Joe Nieuwendyk
, just recently retired, also brings a more recent perspective because he has experienced the increased speed and quickness of the game.
They will leave these meetings having listened to the various thoughts and viewpoints, some of which are very strong. When they return to their teams, they can discuss the ideas with their respective coaches and players and get further perspective. They will also watch games with a view to suggested enhancements and/or changes and decide if they will enhance the game.
This is very important because when the GMs reconvene in the spring for their annual meetings, the discussion will become more focused toward specific items and the debate will surround what should be recommended to the NHL Board of Governors for implementation.
These meetings will not produce immediate solutions. They provide an opportunity to consider the opinions and viewpoints expressed.
The NHL is fast, intense and exciting. It has arrived at its current place through deliberate and careful examination by this very accomplished group. This week has been one of those important steps in bettering the game and allowing the players and fans to enjoy it in all its forms.
The GMs are still looking for ways to make their teams better, but ensuring the game puts its best foot forward is a responsibility they take very seriously.