TORONTO -- NHL general managers spent part of their fall meeting Tuesday discussing potential ways to increase scoring and plan to readdress the topic in March.
"We are all going to wrap our heads around that, i.e., if it is goaltender equipment or if it is bigger nets or if it is style of play and those type of things," Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "We are all going to think about it for a couple of months before we get together in March. Basically, for me, it's scoring chances. Is the game better off with more scoring or is it fine as it is? Those are the things we have to discuss and figure out."
There were an average of 5.32 goals scored through 215 games this season entering play Tuesday, down from 5.46 in 1,230 games last season. It's the fewest goals scored per game since 5.14 in 2003-04, according to hockeyreference.com.
Colin Campbell, NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations, said he isn't sure if goal scoring is the big issue. He said he believes the ability to generate goals, particularly when a teams is trailing, is the primary point to address.
Teams are 21-127-14 when trailing entering the third period this season.
"I don't think the game needs more goals, I think the game needs more opportunity for lead changes," Campbell said. "If you go down one or two goals, even three, you need the opportunity to come back. The game shouldn't be over. You should be able to tie up another team."
Campbell didn't rule out the possibility of the NHL using bigger nets if the GMs conclude that the game needs more scoring. However, he said that is a last resort and the first place they're going to look is streamlining goalie equipment.
The League reduced the length of goalie pads before the start of the 2013-14 season. NHL director of hockey operations and goaltender equipment Kay Whitmore addressed the GMs on the topic Tuesday.
"We've got the go-ahead from the owners, the general managers and the [NHL] Players' Association through our Competition Committee last year to make changes before next season with the goalie equipment," Campbell said. "If that doesn't work, maybe we have to look at bigger nets. We've gone down that [road] before. I've got four different sizes of nets in my barn that we've tried, and they're still there. Maybe we do have to go there, but I think before you do that you have to make every attempt you can to do what you can with the large goalie equipment. The goalies have been pretty cooperative with that now."
The GMs are pleased with how scoring in overtime has increased because of the 3-on-3 format. Entering Tuesday, 70 percent of the games that have gone to overtime have ended in overtime (30 of 43). That's up from 44.4 percent last season (136 of 306).
"We have to be happy with the results," Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said. "The results have been what we were hoping they would be. I enjoy it. The fans love it. It's entertainment and we're in the entertainment business."
The general managers also generally like how the coach's challenge has worked in the first six weeks of the season, but they are discussing ways to refine it to limit the overturned goals on goalie interference plays to those that result from egregious and obvious plays, Campbell said.
Of the 32 goals that have been challenged through Monday, 11 were overturned, including seven of the 23 that were challenged for goalie interference. Coaches are also allowed to use their challenge to contest goals scored off potential offside plays.
"I think the general purpose has been accomplished," Nashville Predators GM David Poile said. "All in all, it has been very good. A bit of a negative is that it has been used as a delay tactic on things that are not obvious interference or offside to delay the game, but that comes with it, that's coaching if you will. The goalie interference situation is the toughest call we have in hockey. We're getting better at it and we're getting more of the decisions right, and that was the purpose of it."
Campbell said there has been discussion about how the reviews are conducted.
Under the current rule, the referees conduct the review themselves through a tablet placed in the penalty boxes. Campbell wouldn't rule out the possibility of it changing so the reviews are done in the NHL Situation Room in Toronto, but that wouldn't be put to a vote until March.
"It's about getting it right, and whether the final call should be from Toronto so there is consistency for every game, versus going to the official and putting it on them, I need a bigger sample size to see how it's working," New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero said. "I do like the idea because you want to get it right and the officials want to get it right for sure. Maybe a few more months we'll have a better idea of what is working and what is not."
A few more months also gives the GMs a chance to evaluate scoring in the League and if anything needs to be done to increase it.
"From a manager's standpoint, from a player's standpoint, we should be challenging each other to come up with ways to create more offense in our game if that is what we think the game needs," Poile said. "To me, that will be as important a topic as anything come March."