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GMs meet on 'historic day' at NHL's birthplace in Montreal

Discuss rules, safety issues at hotel where League was founded in 1917

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika / Columnist

MONTREAL -- The meaning was more important than the meeting itself.

Each November, the NHL general managers gather for a brief meeting, mostly to set the agenda for a three-day meeting each March, when issues are examined closely and rule changes are sometimes recommended.

Usually, the November meeting is held at the NHL office in Toronto the morning after the Hockey Hall of Fame induction. Friday, they held it at Le Windsor, once known as the Windsor Hotel, where the NHL was founded almost exactly 100 years ago, on Nov. 26, 1917.

The GMs discussed offside rules, goaltender interference, slashing and hits from behind into the boards. But they also watched a video about the leaders of the NHL and the 191 general managers in its history, and attended the unveiling of a plaque recognizing the site as the birthplace of the League.

"It's pretty neat that basically 100 years ago, five people sat in a room and decided to form the League, and here we are today with 31 teams and over 800 players," said Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, who was born in Montreal and is the son of former NHL GM Cliff Fletcher. "It's been a great yearlong (Centennial) celebration, really, but for me this has been probably the best experience."

The GMs watched video examples of offside and goaltender interference, then voted so the NHL Hockey Operations Department could see where they stood on each. They mostly agreed with the calls made.

"If you're 70 percent consensus in a lot of areas, I think you're in pretty good shape," Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli said. "And we were generally in that area."

The NHL introduced a minor penalty this season for a coach who challenges an offside call and loses. It has cut down on challenges and delays.

"The whole reason for [the coach's challenge] was to call the egregious offsides," Golden Knights GM George McPhee said. "You might get eight or 10 of them a year. We were thin-slicing too much on reviewing every one. That wasn't the intent. That has improved."

Goaltender inference can be particularly tricky because of the subjectivity involved. The idea is to get everyone on the same page as much as possible.

"I think we're getting better as a league," Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said. "We're starting to understand more clearly … how they're getting to their decisions and what things that we should look for … so it's enabling our coaches to make better decisions when they make their challenges. But it's a tough one. I don't know that we'll ever get into a spot where on any particular call you're going to say everyone's going to agree, 'Oh, that's a good call.' "

The NHL cracked down on slashing this season to prevent injury and promote skill.

"The feeling is that it's going in the right direction," Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said. "We see less and less of it. We see less penalty calls, so the players are now adapting to what the rule is."

Is that leading to a better game?

"Oh, I believe so," Lamoriello said. "They're allowing players to play."

George Parros, senior vice president of player safety, spoke to the GMs about slashes that could rise to the level of supplemental discipline.

Video: GMs gather at historic Windsor to celebrate 100 years

"My hope is that most of the slashing will be taken care of by the officials on the ice," Parros said. "I focused on slashes that are done intentionally, behind the play, nonhockey type of thing, and landing on the hands, fingertips area. It's a new standard. Everyone's getting used to it. If it's behind the play and it's intentional and there's some force to it, then it's a warning. The variable is force."

Parros expressed concern that more players were turning at the last second near the boards and putting themselves in vulnerable positions.

"We have players who are younger and grew up with less physicality, and now they make it to the NHL and they're expecting less physicality," Parros said. "Other players come from a different era where checks were finished on a more consistent basis. So it's just something to be aware of."

Parros also updated the GMs on player safety issues.

"In general, the trends have been downwards," Parros said. "We've got less suspensions, less injuries, all things like that. The game's being played in a great fashion right now, and we hope to continue to do that."

There was an interesting idea on the agenda: reducing minor penalties from two minutes to one in overtime. But Fletcher said the GMs didn't get to it. They might discuss it in March.

"There's things in the game that you can talk about, but to me it's more of a historic day," said Jason Botterill, in his first season as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. "It's just realizing where our League has come in 100 years." Correspondent Sean Farrell contributed to this report.

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