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GMs: 1-3-1 'stalemate' bears monitoring; no action yet

by Corey Masisak
TORONTO -- Several general managers said Tuesday that what happened when the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers incurred "a stalemate" during a game last week needs to be monitored moving forward, but no changes need to be made for now.

Tampa Bay's strict adherence to its 1-3-1 defensive system, and Philadelphia's decision to hold the puck in its own zone and try to force the Lightning out of that alignment, sparked a discussion among the NHL's general managers during their annual fall meeting.

"We went around the room and got every manager's opinion on where we're at with that," NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said. "I led the discussion saying we've played over 8,000 games since we took the red line out and this is the first time we've had a particular incident like this. We saw it in the World Junior [championship] one time, but the managers for the most part felt it is something we have to watch, work on and talk about it more in March. It's not the type of hockey you want to throw at your fans very often."

Added Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman: "It was good. We got everybody's opinions on things, and it was good. I think the general consensus is just monitor the game and the way it is played, and potentially if there are problems going forward that need to be adjusted, at the appropriate time there will be."


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The crux of the issue is whether or not anything needs to be done at this point, and what could be done. There is also the matter of determining fault. Should a team be allowed to sit back in a defensive formation like Tampa Bay did? Should a team be allowed to not attack with the puck? Or both? Those are all questions that must be answered.

"We can't tell coaches how to play unless there is a rule change put in that affects that. To me, it was a one-off," Toronto GM Brian Burke said. "I don't think it is something you're going to see on a nightly basis. Obviously, if you do, that is a problem. We're in the entertainment business, but I don't think we need to react to it today."

Added Nashville GM David Poile: "I'm not trying to take sides. I think everybody could look at it differently -- some from Tampa Bay's side and some from Philadelphia's side. I'll be concerned if that's a repetitive situation. I'm not so sure it is going to be."

The Flyers were not the first team to attempt atypical tactics against Tampa Bay's passive system. Washington tried something similar last season, only the Capitals' defensemen passed the puck back and forth instead of one holding onto it.

Other teams also deploy the 1-3-1, but they may not be as stubborn about sticking to it.

"The score was 0-0. I know myself in a game, like tonight, at some point we're going to be on our toes and we're going to be forechecking," Poile said. "At some point in the game we're going to back on our heels and we're going to be in the 1-3-1. It is just visually strange to me when it is 0-0. As soon as somebody scored a goal, that's not happening anymore."

Yzerman doesn't see his team's style causing problems.

"It hasn't happened very often," Yzerman said of the controversial stalemate. "I think the way the game is played -- I think virtually every team in the League plays pretty similar, and I think it is a byproduct of the way the rules are now. Coaches figure out ways to play and ways to be successful with the personnel they have. If incidents occur like that more regularly, then obviously we'd have to look at altering the rules once again. Tampa Bay plays virtually the same way that every team in the League does."

Poile echoed Yzerman's sentiment about the coaching aspect, saying that every time the League has changed rules to make the game more offensive, coaches have devised new ways to play defense.

If there are more situations like what happened last week, there could be increased motivation to alter the rules. For now, the 30 GMs are in wait-and-see mode.

"There is an agreement that it might happen again," Campbell said. "The question is would you do that at home in front of your own fans? The other question is, is it successful, is it the type of thing that will win you games? We put a lot of talk and a lot of thought into it. They want to throw it to the March meeting. But it's not something they want to see much more."

Tampa Bay won the game in question, 2-1 in overtime.

"I don't think Philadelphia was trying to prove a point or embarrass anybody," Washington GM George McPhee said. "I think Philly was trying to get Tampa forecheckers to come toward them so they could open things up. That's what one coach wanted to do and the other coach refused to do it. We had a stalemate.

"We don't want to see that very often, so we'll keep an eye on it and see what happens in the future. … I think the general consensus was that teams can play whatever way they need to play to win. We'll just monitor things and see if it is an issue in the future. For now though, there is nothing to be done."
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