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GMs mull over a wide array of ideas

by Shawn P. Roarke
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Lock some of the best and brightest hockey minds in a room and you never know what you might get.

That was the process at play during the second day of the NHL General Managers' meetings. The 30 general managers were broken into four breakout groups to discuss various aspects of the game during a session that lasted approximately three hours.

And while the group of eight GMs tasked with tackling the head-hits issue took center stage again Tuesday, the other breakout groups were discussing other proposals that could improve the game.

"Everybody is trying to accomplish the same things -- try to make the game better, make the players safer and make the game more entertaining for the fans," Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero told

Shero was part of "Breakout Group D," which was charged with examining ways to improve ice conditions and looking at revising the definition of charging currently in the NHL rulebook.

Yet, somehow, Shero found himself in the middle of a discussion about ways to improve the marketability of the All-Star Game. Suddenly, somebody was suggesting that perhaps the League should just pick two captains and allow them to draft the all-star teams.

"Sidney Crosby could draft a hockey team and Alex Ovechkin could draft a hockey team," Shero said. "Is that the best way? I don't know. Those are the things you throw out there and a lot of those things, as you have seen from here, don't go anywhere."

But the process of brainstorming, whether ultimately successful or not, leads to the formulation of even more ideas, which leads to even more proposals.

Columbus GM Scott Howson has been tinkering with ways to change the current point system used in the NHL standings, but has not met much success from his peers. Still, the feedback and challenges has forced him to refine his thinking.

So, this spring, he came with a new idea to change the tie-breaking criteria in the standings. Right now, if two teams are tied in points at the end of the regular season, the one with most total victories is given the higher place in the standings. Under Howson's proposal, the tied team with more wins in regulation and overtime would earn the higher seed. 

"It was just trying to reduce the impact of shootouts," Howson told "If Montreal has 40 wins, but eight are in shootouts and Tampa Bay has 40 wins, but only six are in shootouts, Tampa Bay should be rewarded for that and get the tiebreaker in that case. So, you put overtime and regulation wins ahead of shootout wins. That seemed to get some traction."

In fact Howson's proposal will likely be one of the few to make it out of this meeting and be presented to the Board of Governors for a vote.

"The things you talk about, the discussions you have, they generate other ideas," Howson told "Maybe it's not the right time to act right now, but now you have some background with it and people start thinking new ideas and maybe it comes back around next year."

That's part of the reason New York Islanders GM Garth Snow was not too upset that his proposal to have a play-in tournament for the Stanley Cup Playoffs was met with little support. He knows that, at the very least, he got his fellow GMs to think about the possibilities before them.

Under Snow's proposal, the top seven teams in each conference would make the playoffs and the remaining eight teams in each conference would play off for the final playoff spot in the conference. It would be a single-elimination tournament conducted during the course of five to seven days, where the eighth-place team would play No. 15, No. 9 vs. No. 14 and so on until just one team was left standing.  

"We talk about a lot of ways to make things a little interesting," Snow said. "It's a good way to keep the League in the public's eye and keep the fans engaged. It's good to throw ideas out, because you do come up with good ideas."

Other proposals presented Tuesday included the possibility of a coach being able to challenge a certain category of plays, much like the challenge provisions afforded coaches in the national Football League. There was also discussion about potential changes in the format of overtime to allow more games to be decided before going to the shootout.

For the GMs, the discussions are part of their mandate as stewards of the game. And, no matter the eventual outcome of the discussions, the managers take the process serious.

"We are looking for ways to make the game better," Snow said. "The one good thing about having these meetings after the trade deadline is it becomes less about looking out for our own team's interest and we look out for the League as a whole."

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