NEW YORK -- The focus of the meeting of the League's general managers Wednesday was the state of the game on the ice, with an advancement of an old idea and discussion of a new one at the forefront.
Among the topics discussed during the session at the Westin Time Square was the potential of hybrid icing, which the GMs decided they would like to see implemented at the American Hockey League level first, as well as a "traveling" penalty that could carry over from one Stanley Cup Playoff game within a series to the next.
Hybrid icing is the standard at the NCAA level and in the United States Hockey League. For next season, the NHL is expected to ask the AHL to use hybrid icing, which involves a linesman determining the winner of a race to the closest faceoff circle instead of who touches the puck first on plays in which the puck is sent the length of the ice from the defending team's side of the center-ice red line.
"We like it. We want to make sure we're not moving too quick," Detroit GM Ken Holland said. "We'd like to move it to the American League. We'd like to get it to the best league in the world below the National Hockey League and evaluate it with those players. Obviously it's in college and some other players [use it], but those players aren't nearly as good as the ones we're dealing with. I think there was one player injured this year on an icing. Obviously, we'd like zero, but it is one -- it is not 10, it is not 20."
The GMs remain divided on the issue, so observing the results in the AHL could provide better clarity before making a final decision on it for NHL games.
"I think it is a good compromise," Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman said. "We're trying to prevent injuries, so we're looking to change the current icing. I think no-touch icing is awful, so I think the hybrid is a good compromise."
Added Vancouver GM Mike Gillis: "It was just a discussion. I don't think there was a lot of agreement or disagreement. It is a fairly radical change to the game and I think what we've noticed is players are always adapting to player-safety issues when it comes to icing. If they don't have a chance at the puck, they're not risking putting their stick in the other player's feet. If that continues, I think we're getting a compromise that is the best for everybody."
Another rule change that could be recommended to the AHL is the addition of a "ringette line," which would be placed at the top of the faceoff circles in the offensive zone; a player would not be allowed to advance the puck beyond the red line at center ice from below the ringette line. Gillis said there would be more discussion before deciding to ask the AHL to test out the rule.
The discussions about a traveling penalty can be classified as preliminary. After the discussion, the GMs decided to continue talking about the idea and tinkering with it during the course of next season.
There were no firm decisions made on who would be in charge of assessing such a penalty or exactly what could be cited for an infraction, but the idea is to prevent some of the altercations that happen near the end of playoff games that are already decided.
"I think it was viewed as kind of radical and something that would require a lot more thought," Toronto GM Brian Burke said. "I think it would be pretty bizarre to start the next playoff game shorthanded. I think that needs some study. I do think that within a playoff round there are some actions that probably makes sense to have a penalty that carries forward if it happens late in a game."
Added Holland: "We haven't determined -- is it the last two minutes? Is it the last five minutes? Situations where there is obvious message-sending that is not worthy of a suspension, but should a penalty go forward from one game to the next -- a two-minute minor or a five-minute major. Ultimately, you don't really want to do it. You want a deterrent so that at the end of the game, the game finishes and you move onto the next game."
"It is always been our goal to clarify how we want the game played. Within that, each team has its own individual choices and also to make sure it is the safest game possible. You're balancing, and the game has to come first." -- Sharks GM Doug Wilson on possible rule changes
Another idea during the meeting came from the NHL's Director of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell. He proposed a meeting to be held in Toronto this summer that would involve general managers, coaches, players and officials to address the standard of some on-ice rules including hooking, holding and interference.
Campbell said several GMs have expressed concerns that the standard had "slipped" from when rule changes were implemented before the 2005-06 season, and this meeting would be a chance to show video and discuss how those infractions should be enforced.
"I think the standard did slip a little bit, but I think it is as much the strategy combined with that that equals this is how teams are successful," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. "It is always been our goal to clarify how we want the game played. Within that, each team has its own individual choices and also to make sure it is the safest game possible. You're balancing, and the game has to come first. The last time we really did this, really did this, was when we weren't playing games so we had a lot of time to think on it. The game is the most important thing. There are situations where we are very cognizant that we don't want anybody to get hurt. Injuries are going to happen, but there are things that we have to be careful (about) to balance things out."
Yzerman said certain styles of play were also discussed briefly, including the idea of collapsing in front of the net and the rise to prominence of shot blocking.
"I think it is worthy of discussion," Yzerman said. "Lots of different things -- I think the extreme is not going down to block shots, and I don't agree with that. I think shot-blocking is a skill and a talent that shouldn't be taken out of the game. I think it is worthy of discussion to what can be done to change it. Basketball has an illegal-defense rule. We really haven't had any serious discussions, but I think it is worth looking into further how we can generate and get shots through, create more offense in the game and create more scoring chances through skill and nice plays. But defense wins."
Added Wilson: "I have an opinion about how I'd like to see the game played, and we try to build our team a certain way, but you also have to understand [that] the second whatever package we put in, which we did seven years ago, as soon as the ink is dry coaches are saying, 'Here is how I can strategize with our group of players.' As a manager, you are looking at the big picture with who you draft, who do you acquire, who do you keep is based on our identity and how we're going to play. You have teams around the League that all have different identities, and then they should be able to have identities; but you do want to have a pretty good vision on how the game is going to be called and enforced going forward."