Unlike last year, when the NHL general managers came out of their annual March meetings with proposals for 3-on-3 overtime and the coach's challenge rule, the focus when they convene Monday for three days of meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., will be more on the state of the game.
"We review everything," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "That's what we do in these meetings."
Though the GMs generally feel the game is in good shape and radical changes aren't necessary, they are expected to discuss several topics and could push to implement changes to the goaltender equipment as a way to fuel more scoring and refinements to the coach's challenge rule.
The GMs are also expected to discuss potential adjustments to the NHL Draft Lottery and they hope to receive a general outline of what the expansion draft rules would look like if the League chooses to expand to Las Vegas and/or Quebec City.
Scoring and goalie equipment
The GMs are expected to talk about ways to increase scoring. They broached the topic at their one-day meeting in November and said they were going to table the discussion until they got together again in March.
Entering Sunday, there were 5,532 goals scored through 1,027 games this season for an average of 5.39 goals per game. That's down 106 goals through the same number of games last season, but it includes an uptick in empty-net goals (299 this season versus 236 last season).
"We're close to a little over five goals a game right now, which is a 3-2 game," Nashville Predators GM David Poile said. "If I had my druthers I'd like to see a seven-goal game, I'd like to see 4-3."
To get there, the GMs believe the first step is to streamline the goalie equipment to make it leaner, more contoured to the body, and to cut away any unnecessary pieces on pads and potentially the glove and blocker too.
Kay Whitmore, the NHL's senior director of hockey operations in charge of goaltending, is expected to present models of streamlined goalie equipment this week. The GMs hope to implement them as early as next season, and perhaps for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
"Now it's getting from the theory portion into the actual implementation," St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said. "I think everybody is great with the theory, I know everybody wants to see some implementation. The research has gone on now for a number of years. At some point there will be strong implementation."
The topic of increasing the size of the nets as a way to influence more scoring was broached in November, but the GMs still view that as a last possible resort.
"But if we find out that the equipment is under control and the athletes are still too big for the surface or for the net area then we'll have to adjust to it," Armstrong said.
Poile brought up the idea of making certain defensive alignments illegal as a way to increase scoring chances that could lead to more goals.
"We don't have any illegal defenses in hockey like they have in, say, basketball," Poile said. "I'm not saying we should go there, but it's another area to talk about."
The GMs will talk about potential refinements to the coach's challenge rule.
Provided they still have their timeout available, coaches are allowed to challenge goals scored off potential offside or goalie interference plays. When the challenge is issued, the review and ruling is made by the on-ice official through the use of a tablet in the penalty box area.
There is a debate about if it's appropriate for the on-ice official, who has an HD Tablet, to do the review, or if it should go to the NHL Situation Room in Toronto, where they have multiple HD screens and every camera angle at their disposal.
"Maybe we go to [Situation Room] and let them do it because they have better monitors and everything like that, but they don't have the direct feel for what just took place in the game," Rutherford said. "Just open it up for conversation. We'll see."
In addition, there is a concern among GMs that the reviews are taking too long and the coaches are using the challenge as a stall tactic to get their team extra rest despite knowing the odds of winning the challenge are slim.
The draft lottery and potential ways to limit the opportunities teams have to win the No. 1 pick is expected to be addressed. The Edmonton Oilers have had the No. 1 pick in four of the past six drafts. They could get it again this season.
"Could we be in position that we make certain rules that a team cannot repeat as a No. 1 team or in the top five?" Poile said. "I'm open for those type of discussions."
The League changed the lottery system for this season to allow for three separate draws to determine the top three picks. No longer will the team that finishes 30th in the standings be guaranteed at least the No. 2 pick. That team could fall as low as fourth.
"We haven't even had a draft with it, so let's see how it works," Armstrong said. "My own personal feeling is that you could put it in a position where mother luck can only be your ally once, not once a year."
Expansion draft rules
Commissioner Bettman said the League might give the GMs "a sense of what we're thinking" for expansion draft rules, but there won't be anything concrete presented because there hasn't been a decision on if the League is going to expand and to how many markets.
The NHL is considering expansion to Las Vegas and/or Quebec City with the new team or teams starting play no earlier than the 2017-18 season.
Commissioner Bettman said the GMs would need a full transactional year (July 1-June 30) to prepare for an expansion draft, which means a decision on expansion would have to happen before July 1 in order for new teams to debut in the 2017-18 season.