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GMs not inclined to make major changes to game

by Shawn P. Roarke

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The NHL's 30 general managers spent the first day of the annual March meetings discussing a variety of possible changes to the game. However, there did not appear to be appetite for large-scale change.

The meeting Monday, which lasted approximately four hours, featured three breakout groups, each consisting of a panel of 10 general managers. The main topics discussed were: potential changes to the current overtime format; the possibility of expanding the scope of video review and/or implementing a coach's challenge; and an examination of goaltender interference, including the possibility of adding a video-review element.

The GMs will meet in full-group sessions Tuesday and Wednesday, but seem to be taking more of a wait-and-see approach this time around.

"With every rule you've got to be so careful," Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said. "It's a great game. When you start making changes you think you've got all angles covered and something else seeps into it.

"It's a great game. It's never been faster, it's never been better or more competitive. We have to be careful every time we make a little tweak here and there."

New York Rangers GM Glen Sather also cautioned against changing too much after emerging from his breakout group.

"Since 2004 there have been a lot of changes in the game and we have to be careful you don't change too much," he said.

Colin Campbell, the League's senior vice president of hockey operations, also referenced the aggressiveness with which the League has instituted change during the past decade in explaining the more cautious approach which appeared to dominate the first day of meetings here.

For example, at the November meeting of the managers there was some momentum to introduce a 3-on-3 element to the overtime period in an attempt to have more games decided before reaching the shootout portion of the tiebreaker.

Three months later, however, the 3-on-3 proposal has apparently lost a good deal of support, with minor tweaks to the current format gaining in popularity. The two prevailing thoughts from most of the GMs were to have overtime played with the long change in effect by forcing teams to switch sides after the end of regulation. Also, the post-regulation dry scrape of the ice would take place before the start of overtime instead of the start of the shootout.

"Potentially just changing ends may alleviate some of the issues that we have," St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said. "We're talking about when to do the scrape; if we get better ice to start the 4-on-4. Shootouts are a great part of our game, the fans love it, but if we can see games end in the 65 or 66 minutes, it might be a better way for a competitive balance."

The same sense of caution dominated other topics as the GMs tried to balance improvements against potentially harmful consequences.

In discussions about the expansion of video review and the potential of a coach's challenge for each team, the GMs said they were weighing how far they wanted to go to get a call right against adding to the time needed to finish a game. Presently games take about two hours and thirty minutes, and few want to see that number creep toward the three-hour mark.

"Timing was a big issue for people in the room," Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray said, who was part of the breakout group which examined the video review/coach's challenge. "If you had two coaches' challenges, for example, would they take five minutes each; so 10 minutes added to the game. You have to take that and [ask] is making the right call worth the time? No decisions have been made, but that's where we're at."

There also is a fear that coaches potentially would use the challenge in an effort to buy extra time at a critical point in the game, providing a second timeout through the judicious use of an available challenge.

In looking at perhaps expanding the scope of the goalie interference rule or adding a video-replay element to it, there was more of the same debate weighing the impact of arriving at the absolutely proper call against the expense of the game creeping beyond a manageable timeframe.

"We have to have some human error, we have to have human calls in the game, but I do think if a goaltender is not allowed to make a stop and the referee can correct it, then that's something we really look at hard," Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said.

Video review, in all its forms and related issues, dominated much of the conversation Monday. Campbell believes it will continue to be at the forefront throughout the final two days of these meetings as well.

"Probably the overall issue that we have to come to grips with in the NHL, and in hockey operations, is where do we take video review and how far do we go with the technical advances we're seeing out there on a daily basis?" Campbell said. "As I said in the past, both the NFL and the NBA have been in our room and they're expanding [video review] based on things we've done and maybe they might even go farther. The question is how much farther should we go in video review?"

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