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GMs believe small changes all that are needed

by Dan Rosen
TORONTO -- When Brendan Shanahan first went public with his thoughts on why the NHL wanted to test possible rule changes and modifications over a two-day camp this summer, he assured the hockey world that radical change wasn't on the agenda because the NHL game already is in good shape.

You couldn't hear even a whisper of dissent from any of the general managers who attended the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp Fueled By G Series on Wednesday and Thursday. But that doesn't mean the GMs, eloquently referred to as the stewards of the game, left the camp thinking everything was perfect with the game.

The majority is thinking about at least some potential changes, but the key word here is subtle, because the last thing the GMs want to do is confuse the fans.

"The speed of our game, the skill of our athlete now, the excitement, the goal scoring and the opportunity for skilled players to play the game and be successful -- I don't think we have to do a lot," Ottawa GM Bryan Murray told Thursday. "If we do something to change the look of our game and the fans hardly notice it, but we get it right and we protect the players, than that's what we should be doing."

For instance, it was hard to find anyone who didn't like the yellow verification line that was implemented in Wednesday's second session. The line, which was situated in the crease behind the goal line, would be there solely for the purpose of giving the Hockey Operations staffers in the Toronto war room a clearer indication on video review to determine if a goal was scored.

If they see the puck touch the yellow line they will know it is automatically a goal.

"I think that's a change that could help certainly determine the odd controversial call or goal by making it easy for the replay officials to make the correct call," Columbus GM Scott Howson told "The fans wouldn't notice much difference at all."

Another subtle change that drew a lot of praise was changing sides going into overtime to create the long line change we see in the second period. Goal scoring is up in the second period (37 percent) over the past 10 years, more than from the first (30 percent) and third (33 percent) periods, and the conclusion of the Hockey Operations Department is that's because of the long line change.

"That might be a way of settling more games," Murray said. "I'd prefer that rather than have as many games as we have end in shootouts. We don't want as many shootouts. We want the game settled by players as best as we can."

Howson said that type of change likely wouldn't be noticed by the casual fan, either, but the concern is among the die-hards, who maybe select their tickets knowing the home team will be trying to score on that side of the net at least twice in the game, and then again if it gets to overtime.

"I don't think it would affect (the fans') viewing experience too much," Howson added, "but you do get people that buy seats in the attacking zone because they want to see their team score closest to them and now you're taking that away from them, so there might be pushback there a little bit."

Not enough to dissuade veteran coach Ken Hitchcock.

"You're going to get tired guys on the ice and a little mistake ends up being a big mistake," Hitchcock said. "I feel that 4-on-4 (overtime) now is just a stall to get to the shootout where there is more strategy and more control, and I think we've got to look at allowing the players as a team to decide the game rather than two or three individuals."

Hybrid icing may not be as subtle as these other two changes, but it has gained a lot of traction in the GM fraternity over the last two days and likely will be discussed at length at their fall meetings. They feel by giving the linemen discretion on blowing a play dead or allowing it to continue will cut down on the amount of injuries and collisions we see on icing plays.

"It's nothing that is dramatic and will alter a fan's perception of the game," Howson said. "Player safety is at the forefront there and anything we can do to help with that we should be looking at."

Widening the goal crease three inches, making the depth of the net four inches shallower and replacing the mesh on the top of the net with clear plastic are also potential changes the GMs could try to get through to the competition committee in short notice.

The thought is that a wider crease gives the goalie just a little bit more room for comfort and protection, the shallower nets provide more room for a player to go post-to-post from behind the net to get attempt a wraparound, and the clear-top net gives the video review judges a clearer picture from the overhead camera.

"I don't think that the average fan notices that stuff," Calgary Assistant GM Jay Feaster told "So, yeah, I think there are things that can be done that wouldn't be radical or dramatic. Again, if the general managers are so inclined to make those recommendations you have to think that it would move rather quickly through the Competition Committee and then the Board (of Governors)."
"I don't think we have to do a lot. If we do something to change the look of our game and the fans hardly notice it, but we get it right and we protect the players, than that's what we should be doing." -- Senators GM Bryan Murray
One potential change that seems subtle but has gotten a mixed reaction is not allowing teams that are ruled to be offside to change lines before the ensuing faceoff. It's similar to if a team is whistled for icing and not given the opportunity to change lines.

"It does affect the game because you do get players caught out there a little bit and you see how quickly the coaches were trying to get them off the ice," Murray said. "It does affect the game and is something we'd have to discuss long and hard."

Still, Howson, who indicated that he's not a big fan of that modification, said it isn't anything that will deter the viewing experience for a fan.

"I think most fans wouldn't even know that's a rule," he said.

That's the idea behind a lot of these potential subtle changes the GMs like. There isn't much of a hunger for going radical, such as putting three faceoff dots down the middle of the ice, but if there is minimal optical change that makes the game better as a whole, than these stewards are all for it.

"You don't want to change the fundamentals of the game," Feaster said. "Sometimes we beat ourselves up and say there are problems with our game and I don't think that's the case. It isn't a case of the game being broken, but it's a matter of studying these things, being pro-active. From that standpoint, I think it's important that whatever we do that the fans don't perceive it as some radical change."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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