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News and Notes from the 2009 GM Meeting

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks


Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson and 29 other NHL GMs gathered in Florida this weekend to discuss the "State of the Game" and to hear and discuss ideas to enhance the game.

Here is a collection of news and notes from NHL.com writers:

Button: Fighting, head-shot debates at are healthy -- NHL Network analyst Craig Button addresses some of the topics facing the NHL general managers this week.

By Craig Button - Special to NHL.com

NAPLES, Fla. -- The NHL's 30 general managers are gathered here to discuss the "State of the Game" and to hear and discuss ideas to enhance the game.

Colin Campbell and his Hockey Operations group spend a lot of time preparing for these meetings. They asked for input and ideas regarding the game well in advance so that when they are together with the GMs, the focus can be on good productive discussions and suggestions on strengthening the game.

When you gather this collection of experienced, passionate and intelligent people to discuss, debate, analyze and make recommendations on how the game can be improved and enhanced, the beneficiary becomes the game of hockey.

Paul Kelly, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, also made a presentation on behalf of the players with respect to various opinions they have on issues surrounding the game.

So, what are the topics being discussed?

Fighting is a 'hot-button' issue with many layers and nuances to it.

The black-and-white argument is: does it or doesn't it belong? The reality is considerably more complicated and finding a simple answer is extremely difficult.

How does a fight begin? Is it the result of the constant friction of a competitive battle or is it as a response to a player being hit? Does it occur as a result of the game tactic of "trying to change momentum?" How can players be better protected from serious injury as a result of fighting?

In a similar vein, the players are concerned about the place of "head shots" in the game. Seems odd that a debate can rage on about fighting and its place in hockey at the same time there is a concern with head shots.

Again, the consideration of factors is complex in regard to head shots. Do you hit a player who is unsuspecting? Is it the player who's unsuspecting -- or unaware in some instances -- who is responsible? Or does the responsibility remain with the player who is delivering the hit to stop short of delivering such a blow? What are the penalties to be levied against a player in a sport where the action is fast and the intensity high?

These are just a couple of the topics being discussed here, but fans can be reassured that everybody involved in the discussions surrounding the NHL, specifically, and the effects for hockey, in general, have the best interests at hand and will deliberate appropriately.

Remember this is the same collection of people who during the lockout made the recommendations that have lead to many of the enhancements -- including the shootout and the elimination of the red line for passing -- found in the game today.

Those are enhancements that have led to the excitement of hockey being played at the highest level with superbly skilled players.

The GMs will meet this challenge as well -- and hockey will benefit once again.



What they're saying -- With the issue of fighting a hot button topic at the NHL General Managers meetings, NHL.com surveyed the League’s movers and shakers on the subject.
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Staff Writer

NAPLES, Fla. - With fighting the hot button topic throughout the hockey world, NHL.com broached the subject with a number of power brokers attending the 2009 NHL General Managers as possible.

Here is what some of them had to say:

"Hockey is inherently a dangerous game and fighting is part of hockey and there will be dangers associated with that. Having said that, if you can look at the game, keep its basic integrity and still make it safer for the players, that's something we should always endeavor to do. That's what the exercise is this week."
-- NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly

"There is not this pressure to fight I think that people might have felt 20 years ago when rarely would guys not fight. There were a few guys that said, 'I'm just not going to do it and they left them alone anyway.' Nowadays even the tougher guys don't have to fight. We all want to make them safer, but all I know is either a goal or a fight really gets people on their feet in the buildings. I think the real passionate fans still enjoy it, but nobody wants to see anybody get hurt."
-- Don Maloney, Phoenix Coyotes GM

"You'll always have some people that have strong feelings for and strong feelings against. I think it's just something we will come to accept. I don't think fighting should be permitted in any non-professional leagues. I don't think it should be permitted in junior leagues, senior leagues, in colleges. If you're in the American Hockey League, the ECHL or the NHL than you should have fighting, but it should be done in such a way where the players are protected. It shouldn't be a constant wrestling match. It shouldn't be ultimate fighting for 60 minutes. The fighting should evolve naturally from the emotion, the momentum, the adrenaline, the game itself. And, referees shouldn't let it get too carried away. They should learn there is an appropriate point, and it's not always easy to do, but step in and stop the fight before it becomes, No. 1, dangerous, or No. 2, difficult for most people to watch."
-- NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly

"What you guys would call a staged fight I might not call a staged fight. If Luke Schenn gets run with a minute and a half to go in the game and we don't have a chance to make that player pay a price, that might be the way the next game starts. It might not even be up to the coach. It might be someone on the ice who says 'Even though I normally start I'm going to go fight that guy.' Everyone says it's a staged fight as soon as the puck dropped, but it's not always that simple.

"Anything that is senseless or seems senseless we should look at eradicating so if there is a way to define it and police it we have to look at that. But people shouldn't be quick to assume that a fight that happens off a faceoff is a staged fight. Sometimes it's a carryover from a prior game. I had a player go after a guy when I was an assistant in Vancouver. He said the player ran him from behind in his first junior camp three years before that. It took him three years to get him back and he went right after him. Don't always assume it's the coaches who want that fight or the players are put out there on purpose. Sometimes they act independently on that stuff."
-- Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke

"Fighting has changed dramatically in each decade from the '50s onward. If you look at that old video that you guys show on NHL.com, you often see a player swing his stick at the head of a player that preceded a fight back in the '50s and '60s. Then it evolved into more of an enforcer-type role in the '70s and '80s with brawling and multiple fights going on through the course of a game, fights that began in warmups. That clearly isn't the case anymore. It has evolved from that into less fighting, more European players, visors that have intervened. When I played in the early '80s half our team didn't wear a helmet, let alone a visor. There have been a series of changes that have occurred through equipment and other reasons, conditioning and size of the players, and as a progressive league we have to monitor them and make sure you're doing the best job possible. We have now entered another phase where people have to evaluate what is going on."
-- Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis

"(Takedowns), that is part of what we are talking about. The helmet in place, too. I think the whole discussion right now is about if you have a visor on and you fight, it's tough to be a fighter if you have that on. The people like Jarome Iginla will take them off because he thinks it's fair to take them off. Are we telling him you can't fight anymore or are we telling him you can fight with a visor on? That's a big part of the discussion."
-- Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray

"When I played in the '80s, if you won the first few fights of a playoff series there was a good chance you were going to win the playoff series. Now there are no fights in the playoffs. I've been in the League since '74 and there has never been a rule that says you can't fight in the playoffs. No rules have changed about fighting in the playoffs. It has just gone away. If you looked at the fights in the '80s, they increased in the playoffs."
-- NHL Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell

"We're always looking to do what is best for the game and to me, fighting is a part of the game, the fabric of the game. I think we have to continue to look at it and do the best that we can, in my opinion, without taking fighting out of the game. If there is a way we can protect the players or give the linesmen more guidance on when they get in and whether helmets would be on or off or whatever it is."
-- Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero

"You look at the game of hockey and its one of the ingredients of hockey. Do you love it for the scoring? You love it for all the ingredients. It's like my grandmother's butter tarts. I know they are the best in the world, just like I know this game is at an optimum level right now. I really think when you are looking at it, you want all those ingredients in the game. The general managers will talk and they'll probably focus on safety, so the players' concerns are there concerns there as well. They'll say, 'We know what is going on in the game and we know that fighting is a component of the game and is there a way we can make it safer?'
-- NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom



Daly addresses issues of the day -- Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly took some time to discuss many of the prime topics on the agenda at the NHL General Managers Meetings with NHL.com.
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Staff Writer

NAPLES, Fla. -- It's called the NHL General Managers Meetings, but they're not the only ones addressing a wide-ranging, plethora of issues down here this week.

All of the League's executives, including Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and V.P. and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell are heavily involved in the discussions as well.

Daly took a few moments out of his busy morning to discuss many of the topics on the agenda with NHL.com. Here is what he had to say:

NHL.com: Fighting is the hot-button topic in the hockey world these days. Does the League have any particular stance on the topic at hand and where you stand on it?

Bill Daly:
"That's what I think is going to be explored. Hockey is inherently a dangerous game and fighting is part of hockey and there will be dangers associated with that. Having said that, if you can look at the game, keep its basic integrity and still make it safer for the players, that's something we should always endeavor to do. That's what the exercise is this week."

NHL.com:
Going forward, will there then be something that can be done on the quote-unquote staged fights? Is there a way to police that? Can we leave it in the hands of the officials, up to their discretion?

BD: "I think that's one of the questions that will be considered and talked about this week. I think that introduces some challenges that the managers may not want to deal with at this point, and I don't know the answer to that question because we haven't had the full discussion in the big group with those issues. It will be interesting to hear (Tuesday) what they think of the subject."

NHL.com:
(NHLPA Executive Director) Paul Kelly said they have proposed a new rule on hits to the head. From the League's perspective, what do you think of the proposal and is it something that should continue to be discussed and thought about?

BD:
"It's obviously something that our managers have focused on before as well. We had a very thorough discussion on hits to the head, being tougher on hits to the head and penalizing hits to the head going back to the summer of 2007. (The NHLPA) had some suggested language, but I'm not really sure if it's just a variation of some things that our group, the manager group, talked about two summers ago. Again, head injuries are a tough part of our business and something we should be taking steps to minimize. They will always be the result of a contact sport like hockey, but to the extent we can take steps to minimize the number of head injuries we should be doing it."

NHL.com: The players seem genuinely enthused about playing in the Olympics after 2010. I wonder if you could answer a question on what the League's thought is on that right now?

BD: "You know what, we don't have any preconceived notions on that subject. It was something that we were committed to as a result of our collective bargaining agreement in Torino in 2006 and 2010 in Vancouver. It's something that we decided a long time ago that we wouldn't make any decisions on until we go through the Vancouver experience, see what transpires there. I can say there were some things associated with the 2006 Games that didn't leave necessarily a positive impression on our clubs and I would suspect that those things can be corrected and they might be different in Vancouver and people might have a totally different view with regards to Olympic participation at that point. But, I don't think it's fair really even to gauge what clubs' views are on the Olympics until after 2010 to see how that experience goes."

NHL.com: Do you find it better to have the GM Meetings after the trade deadline as opposed to before?

BD: "Well, it's a first for me and for us since I have been at the League. It's really too early to tell. It's only one day in and we didn't really have much of a discussion within the broader group today. I think clearly there are some benefits to it. The managers were of the view last year when we decided to change it, with the stresses and time commitments leading into trade deadline, the managers meeting and the managers agenda doesn't get the full attention that it might if you did it after the trade deadline. That was the rationale on them moving it, so we'll see."

NHL.com:
In Chicago at the one-day GM Meetings there was a lot discussed on the medical procedures and standards in the wake of the Alexei Cherepanov incident in Russia, with specific regards to the echocardiogram and the electrocardiogram. Was there or will there be anything discussed on that topic here?

BD: "Yes, I think we're going to report on those issues. That is something we have discussed with both our health management panel and our team physician society. There is a real split of opinion on the subject on whether an echocardiogram is the right thing to do, much less a wise thing to do, and it has to do with the amount of players you might end up disqualifying who might not have real heart conditions. There are false positive implications and the like. It is a product of a lot of debate in the medical community now so I'll report to the general managers either (Tuesday) or Wednesday on where we sit with the issue."

NHL.com: Is there anything new on the NHL Premiere games in Europe going forward, or are we just focused on 2009 right now?

BD: "At some point we'd like to be focused on a much longer-term horizon. We had some challenges this year in terms of the lateness of making the decisions we needed to make for a variety of reasons. We would have liked to have more teams going to Europe to open the season next year, but as it turns out we're going to open in two cities with four teams again. I would expect that we'll continue that and maybe expand it as we move forward. Obviously the World Cup of Hockey is an international opportunity that we're focused on going back to at some point. We're in discussions with the players association and we have an agreement to move forward on that. Hopefully we can stage a World Cup as early as 2011."

NHL.com: Would that be staged in September, February, or do you even know?

BD:
"I think the current contemplation is we would keep it in the same time window as we have had it in the past, which would make it before training camp, during training camp time period as opposed to shutting down the season to accommodate a February World Cup. It is something the players association raised for the first time to us, the manager group, (Monday) morning. We're always happy to have that discussion, but it raises a lot of challenges. It raises a lot of the same challenges the Olympic break raises, quite frankly, which I think would make it difficult to accommodate.



The business of hockey -- Shawn P. Roarke and Dan Rosen blog about the goings-on from the GM Meetings in Naples, Fla.

Dan and I are back at the Ritz-Carlton for Day 2 of the GM Meetings. It's another beautiful day here in Florida, sunny and warm. But, it is 65 degrees and fluorescently lit here in the workroom that has become our home here.

The meetings were already underway when we arrived a 9 a.m. The 30 GMs will meet as a big group for the first few hours and then break into subcommittees for the second half. Like Monday, they will be available to the media either before or after lunch.

We'll have all of the news that comes out of the media availability, plus we hope to add some audio of some of Monday's pressers in the next little while, as well.
For those of you just joining Dan and I here, make sure you check out the stories we filed Monday. Dan had a terrific package on the complexities surround the fighting debate being waged among the GMs here, while I delivered a two-part piece on the work being down to address the issue of headshots.

Craig Button, from the NHL Network, also did a guest commentary piece on Day 1 of the GM meetings. The NHL Network is here in Naples, putting together a 30-minute show each night. The Tuesday night show, hosted by Button and Brian Duff, will run from 7-7:30 p.m. ET on the Network, with a re-air from 8 to 8:30 p.m. ET.

--Shawn P. Roarke

Can't-miss TV
03.09.09, 6:35 PM


As we mentioned earlier, the NHL Network is down here doing a nightly wrapup of the GM Meetings, a 30-minute show that runs from 7 to 7:30 p.m. and re-airs from 8 to 8:30 p.m.

The show's producer, Sam Cicirello, just dropped us a note about what will be on the show and it looks pretty good.

Hosts Brian Duff and Craig Button have interviews with NHL Senior VP Colie Campbell, Toronto GM Brian Burke, Vancouver GM Mike Gillis, Ottawa's Bryan Murray and Don Maloney of the Phoenix Coyotes.

The show also features NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly talking about the presentation he made to the GMs on Monday morning, as well as NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly talking about the economic realities the League is facing.

Finally, Buffalo GM Darcy Regier stops by to reminisce about former Islander GM Bill Torrey and the impact he has had on Regier's own career.

--Shawn P. Roarke

Going to the theater
03.09.09, 6:30 PM


Fighting was a main topic today, but as you read in NHL Network analyst Craig Button's piece, there are so many layers to the never-ending debate.

One of them is the staged fights. Shawn already brought you Brian Burke's views on the topic, but I polled a few other power brokers here and asked the simple question:

Can the NHL find a way to police staged fights?

The answer isn't so simple.

NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly doesn't think there is a clear-cut way of drawing a line between what is for real and what is theatrical. Until someone approaches him with some suggested guidelines, Kelly told me he can't take it to the players.

"If a player comes out at the beginning of the period and drops the gloves with a guy right after the opening faceoff, is that in response to something that happened at the end of the prior period or in the end of the previous game between the two teams? Is he really stepping up and responding to some play on a fellow teammate?" Kelly told NHL.com. "It's hard to figure out where you draw the line around pre-arranged fights. I have heard the argument that people would like to see pre-arranged fights or staged fights eliminated from the game. I just think it would be a hard thing to define. I'd like to hear some ideas and proposals from people before I'm in position to take it to the players."

Buffalo GM Darcy Regier wouldn't go as far as calling staged fights a problem, but he does agree a determination has to be put in the game to guard against them.

"I don't want to get into a hypothetical of what should or shouldn't happen," Regier told NHL.com. "There needs to be a conversation about its place in the game, whether it has a place in the game and under what circumstance."

Here's one more from Brian Burke, who clearly doesn't care too much about the topic of staged fights. For full disclosure, this is in response to a question I asked him about communication.

The gist of what I asked is if we're going to find a way to police staged fights, does there need to be communication between the player and the ref, or the coach and the ref, so the ref knows when a fight certainly is not staged. For example, should Player A tell the ref, 'Listen, that dude went after me three weeks ago and I never had a chance to pay him back. Don't penalize me if I challenge him tonight.'

"You can overanalyze this," Burke quipped. "You guys seem much more concerned with this issue than I am. As far as the place the fighting debate occupies, to me it's not a debate in the game. Fighting belongs and is going to stay and the debate is raging around the sport and the issue of fighting. You have far more questions about it than I have answers or concerns."

Fair enough. I'll stop right there.

- Dan Rosen

Olympic Spirit
03.09.09, 6:21 PM


While fighting and head shots ruled the conversation Monday at the GM Meeetings, there were many other topics up for discussion. One Of the most intriguing is the status of the Olympics after the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

The NHL has yet to commit to the 2014 Games in Russia and the issue is complicated.

The players want to go, says PA boss Paul Kelly.

"The players strongly support Olympic participation after Vancouver; they believe it is good for the game," Kelly said Monday. "They understand the issues of the owners, but they believe it is a positive."
The GMs, meanwhile, are struggling with what to do about Russia. Few are welcoming of the idea that the League will have to shut down for more than two weeks to accommodate travel to Russia and participation in the two-week tournament.

Brian Burke, the Toronto GM, said that he really struggles with the issue of shutting down the game in-season and can't think of another sport that does so.

Ottawa GM Bryan Murray, meanwhile, is still stinging from losing his goalie, Dominik Hasek, got hurt in the first game with the Czech Republic, and struggled for the rest of the season upon returning to the Sens.

Pittsburgh's Ray Shero, meanwhile, knows that he will be in a unique situation because he has two of the best Russian players in the NHL in League-leading scorer Evgeni Malkin and veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar.

"I don't really have an opinion on 2014, I'm focused on 2010," said Shero, who is part of the American braintrust for 2010. "The one thing I think about 2014 is it's in Russia and we've personally got a couple of pretty good Russian players on our team and whether it is a Gonchar or a Malkin, how would that affect them in term of players and wanting to play in there home country?

The GMs will wrestle with that question and many others related to the Olympics in the next two days and we will keep you abreast of all the developments.

--Shawn P. Roarke


Right place, right time
03.09.09, 5:55 PM


Sometimes you just never know what you're going to see at these type of events.

So, there I am minutes ago, up in the lobby of the hotel, between the front door and the beautiful veranda overlooking the golf course, talking on my cell phone with my wife back in Jersey. She was telling me about her day at work and I was dishing a little bit on mine here when all of a sudden three of the most recognizable and important figures in NHL history walk right by me:

Scotty Bowman, Jim Devellano and Pat Burns, who despite cancer looks pretty darn good.

It looked like the three of them were heading out to the veranda to enjoy the beautiful evening. Vancouver GM Mike Gillis, who was downstairs also talking on his phone and asking the Bell Desk a question, stopped over to the historic trio for a few words. When they got outside, Brian Burke and Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox greeted them.

And, then off they went to find themselves some peace and quiet. No doubt they were talking about hockey, and probably discussing how they would change the game today. I am sure they each have their own views on fighting at this juncture, that's for sure.

Like I said, you just never know what you're going to see.

- Dan Rosen

Exit 'Stage' Left
03.09.09, 5:37 PM


Brian Burke certainly doesn't want to hear the media spout off about "staged" fights -- you know the ones that happen right off a faceoff -- anymore.

To him, there are plenty of reasons why guys might guy right off the faceoff aside from just the gratuitous do-you-wanna-go canard.

"You'll see two guys line up off a faceoff and they're yapping and then they fight and everyone says, 'Oh, that's a staged fight,' "Burke said "When I was playing in the American (Hockey) League, I went after a guy in a game who speared me two years before that when I was playing university hockey.

Anyone upstairs can say it was a staged fight; well it wasn't a staged fight. I was going to get this guy and I was going to get him the first time I was on the ice with him. After the incident he yelled at me and said, 'What was that all about?' I said to him, 'You got me two years ago and I didn't get a chance to get your for two years.'

And, Burke says that happens more often than you might think.

"I had a player go after a guy when I was in Vancouver," Burke said, referencing his time in Vancouver's front office. "He said the player ran him from behind in his first junior camp three years before that. It took him three years to get him back and he went right after him.

"Don't always assume it's the coaches who want that fight or the players are put out there on purpose. Sometimes they act independently on that stuff."

--Shawn P. Roarke

A cautionary tale
03.09.09, 5:28 PM


With all the talk about fighting's place in the game that went on today, you knew that a few people would have some good stories.

Surprisingly, mild-mannered Don Maloney, now the GM of the Phoenix Coyotes, had one of the better ones.

It seems back in his playing days, during his time with the Rangers, he was involved in a spirited game against the Islanders -- if you can imagine that -- at Madison Square Garden.

On the play in question, the puck had just been dumped in and Maloney gave Bobby Nystrom a "push" into the stanchion by the penalty box.

"I gave him a little push and he hit the (stanchion) and the crowd is roaring at the Garden and I'm looking around and there's this Tasmanian Devil coming," Maloney said, now able to laugh at the memory.

It seems that Nystrom did not appreciate Maloney's "push" and made sure the Ranger knew about it.

"He hit me so many times on the top of my head. I couldn't touch my head for like 3 weeks; it was that sore," Maloney said. I knew fighting wasn't a big part of my future at that point."

And, it is an incident that remains unspoken by Maloney to this day whenver he crosses paths with the Islander legend.

"I'm still afraid of him," Maloney said.

--Shawn P. Roarke

Time to get busy
03.09.09, 12:54 PM


It's almost time for the GMs to break from their workshop meetings and have some lunch and then deal with the media.

We're running back down the hall to get all the interviews we can and will be back with some comments.

Paul Kelly and Glenn Healy have already met with the media. Dan has a great read on Kelly's unique proposals below. I hope to add some more later, as well as a podcast of his scrum.

Also, the NHL Network is here, doing a nightly recap on Monday and Tuesday. Brian Duff and Craig Button are conducting interviews with all the newsmakers and will put it all together in a 30-minute program that will be must-watch TV. The show will air from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET and will re-air from 8-8:30 p.m. ET

Craig Button, who did some analysis for NHL.com at the Trade Deadline, will also check in with an opinion piece on NHL.com later this afternoon, so look for that.

We'll be back with more soon.

-- Shawn P. Roarke

Kelly: Make February break permanent
03.09.09, 12:23 PM


NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly told me earlier today that part of his presentation to the GMs included two potential scheduling changes the players are in favor of implementing going forward:

1. Have the Stanley Cup Final end around June 1 rather than June 15.
2. Make the two-week break in Olympic years an annual thing.

The first proposal is certainly straightforward. Kelly and the players propose to start the season a bit earlier and compress some of the scheduling in the middle so the Stanley Cup Final is awarded in early June rather than the middle of the month.

The second will definitely pique the most interest.

Why would they break every February? How would they make it work? What would they replace the hockey games with? Wouldn't it stop the momentum of the season? Are they nuts?

All good questions you're probably asking yourself. Kelly told me he thinks it's a good idea to build the two-week break in February into every season so the players can recoup their bodies and refresh for the stretch run, but it's not that he wants hockey to go away for two weeks in non-Olympic years.

"We did raise this with all 30 teams and got an overwhelmingly positive response," Kelly said.

The proposal includes bringing back the World Cup of Hockey and playing it once every four years in that same time frame as the Olympics.

"If you're going to hold a World Cup and you're going to hold it every four years, let's hold it in those intervening years in between the Olympics," Kelly said. "You'd have the Olympics in 2010, the World Cup in 2012, the Olympics in 2014 and the World Cup in 2016 and just do that recurring schedule in the same February footprint all the way through."

What about the odd years?

Kelly suggests they could shrink the break from two weeks to one week in the non-Olympic or World Cup years and expand NHL All-Star Weekend to five days rather than three. By doing so, you would also give the players who are playing in the All-Star Game an extra 24 hours on each side to rest, totaling the seven-day break.

"Right now we play games until Thursday and we fly our All-Stars into whatever the city is on Friday. Then we fly them back out Sunday or Monday morning and they're playing on Tuesday night," Kelly said. "You could make the event bigger by drawing more attention to the event and at the same time give those players a little bit more of a breather so that they're ready for that haul down the stretch."

He suggested adding a hockey summit into All-Star Weekend, "bringing in not only medical people but hockey experts, international people to talk about the key issues in our game." He also thinks they could hold a major youth hockey tournament in the host city of All-Star Weekend, and probably an alumni game or tournament as well.

I then suggested the idea of playing an outdoor game during that time frame as well. Kelly said it's certainly something to think about, too.

"That's another opportunity," he said. "You could do an outdoor All-Star Game. You could do an outdoor game together with an outdoor All-Star Game. I think we need to start thinking outside the box a little bit."

-- Dan Rosen

Let the Meetings Begin
03.09.09, 9:41 AM


We're on the ground here in beautiful Naples, Fla., with the sun shining and temperatures set to climb into the mid-80s.

But, before anyone gets the misinformed notion that sun and fun are on the agenda for the NHL.com boys -- myself and Dan Rosen -- know this: WE will be stuck in a hotel for the better part of the day. There will be no beach visits, no spring training baseball games and no golf on this trip.

It's a business trip for us. Fortunately, we both like the business of hockey very much.

So, we will prowl the hallways and ballrooms of the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort to get all the latest news from the three days of GM Meetings here.

To start, we can tell you that NHLPA boss Paul Kelly is addressing the group from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Monday.

Also, there a number of topics on the agenda for the next couple of days that will be of interest.

The GMs are expected to discuss fighting, blows to the head and various rules changes.

Among the rule changes reported to be on the docket are Larry Pleau's proposal to force the team that incurs a delayed penalty to have to ice the puck -- not just touch it -- in order to get a whistle to stop play. There will also be some discussion of Bob Gainey's proposal that would make leaving your feet --read diving -- to block a shot a minor delay-of-game penalty.

Also, there may be some discussion about changing, or eliminating, the trapezoid rule that presently limits where a goaltender can handle the puck. Additionally, Ken Holland has proposed a change in the tiebreaking procedure for the playoffs, moving from overall wins as the first tiebreaker to regulation wins.

Delivering all the news from Naples is our mandate and we will deliver in this blog, as well as with feature stories on NHL.com. So, stay with NHL.com for the next 72 hours to get your fill of news about the state of the game.

-- Shawn P. Roarke



Limiting head shots high on the agenda
NHLPA, NHL discuss additional restraints on head shots.

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Managing Editor

NAPLES, FLA. -- Player safety was at the forefront of the agenda of the 2009 General Managers' Meetings here at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.

And while the debate about fighting's place in the game attracted the majority of the headlines going into the three-day summit of the 30 managers, NHL Players' Association Executive Director Paul Kelly made sure the subject of head shots shared top billing on the agenda.

Kelly spoke shortly after Monday's meeting began and told the group that head shots -- not fighting -- was the most pressing issue facing his constituency.

"I would say better than three-quarters of the players say that we need to have a new rule on hits to the head," Kelly said after his hour-long meeting with the GMs, a talk where he broached a number of issues, including fighting, Olympic participation, the World Cup of Hockey and All-Star participation.

But it was clear Kelly wanted to talk most loudly and most often about blows to the head. And it was also clear that he found a very receptive audience in the general managers, who already had the subject on the week's agenda.

Buffalo's Darcy Regier, in fact, was part of the smaller committee that addressed hits to the head during a workshop after the general assembly. He said his group has another day to work on the matter, but progress was being made.

"We're going to discuss it again tomorrow," Regier told NHL.com. "I'd probably reserve judgment until after that; but I do feel strongly that deliberate hits to the head are an issue in our game that needs to be addressed and it's not necessarily an easy thing to address. You have to define exactly what we're looking to take out of the game, and then it's the implementation of it.

"There are all sorts of different issues, maybe the biggest one the difference in size of players. Having said that, when I'm watching games I think I know when I see a deliberate hit to the head and I really feel strongly there is not a place in the game for that."

Kelly believes he dealt with all the ambiguity in his proposal to the GMs on Monday to change the rulebook regarding hits to the head.

"It's to impose a rule that is similar to the hits-from-behind rule, which says that you define hits to the head as a blow to an unsuspecting player, a player that is in a vulnerable position, and (that) the attacking player has to intentionally or recklessly target the head of that player and make contact with any part of (that attacking player's) body -- whether it is an elbow, a hand, a shoulder.

"You give the officials a menu of choices. It's a minor if there is really no injury. It can be a major if there is an injury or if it's a particularly violent hit. Or if there is an intent to injure, it is a match penalty.

"Right now, you can blindside a guy -- you can see a player coming through the center of the neutral zone looking away to catch or receive a pass and you can drop your shoulder right into his head and it's a perfectly legal and appropriate hit. We don't think that is correct. We think that is a serious safety issue."

No one is debating the safety of the players comes first, but there appears to be significant -- and healthy -- debate around how best to protect the well-being of the players. Even Kelly is hesitant to put a ban on all head hits, understanding that contact to the head is sometimes inadvertent or without malice.

NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell has been at the center of this debate for several years now. He knows the League is doing its best to be proactive in the fight against predatory head shots, pointing at harsh suspensions given to Brendan Witt of the Islanders and Denis Gauthier of the Kings for recent head shots.

"We've beat the heck out of (head shots) and we'll do it again," Campbell said Monday. "Several managers have asked us to talk about it. I think our managers have just as good a handle on what the players are thinking as the Players' Association does. They deal with their 23 players every day, take care of them, and they don't like players to be out with injuries from concussions. So we'll discuss it. We had our own head-hit topic on the table. We address it every year."

While there are no easy answers, Ottawa's Bryan Murray distills the argument to this: "If it's a play where (a player) sees me coming and I hit him, that's fine. If I come blindside to him and hit him with the shoulder or the elbow, then it's different."

But it is not that easy, as many people pointed out in Monday's post-meeting discussions.

Campbell, for one, fears that an over-arching head-hit rule will put a chill on the physical play that defines hockey's character for many.

"The one they are talking about that I think is a real slippery slope is when you are asking the referee to call a shoulder hit that hits the face," Campbell says. "You're taking a vital aspect of the game out, in my own personal belief."

Campbell and Brian Burke, the GM for the Toronto Maple Leafs, also believe a proposal resembling the one Kelly put forward would absolve players of the personal responsibility to protect oneself on the ice.

"I believe there is a responsibility by the player getting hit by a legal check that he has to have his head up and avoid it," Campbell said. "In my day, if you got hit that way, legally by a player , your teammates would wonder what was going on, your coach would look at you and maybe not say anything, but your dad for sure when you got home would give you crap for having your head down."

"I'm certainly concerned about player safety, but I'm more concerned about taking a play out of the game that is a good, physical part of the game."

As Regier said, there will be more discussion on this topic before the meeting break-up Wednesday afternoon. By then, there should be crystallization on exactly where the GMs will fall on this issue.

"It's a question of how you police them, how you monitor them and what the consequences are of that behavior," Vancouver GM Mike Gillis toild NHL.com. "I think the League has shown recently a propensity of stepping up and penalizing a player pretty severely in the event that there is a clear head shot. Everyone agrees that is something that has to be monitored, looked at and, if adjustments are necessary, to make them."

Walkom: 'We're on top of it'
NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom couldn't help but hear all the frenzied talk about head shots coming from all corners at the GM Meetings here.

But as the man ultimately responsible for making sure such hits are punished in the course of game play, he had to urge that the hysteria be toned down just a touch, reminding anyone that would listen that his officials already do a pretty good job of punishing such hits when they occur.

"I think hits to the head have always been a concern for the League," Walkom told NHL.com Monday "I think sometimes it's important to recognize that most of the rules in the book are designed for player safety and on fairness, one of those two things."

"I think sometimes this issue is getting more focus than occurrence. I think sometimes it's good to sit back and go, 'Did anybody care about a player's head before this?' I say, 'Absolutely.'"

He points out that contact with the head already is punishable in many forms. A punch to the head is roughing, a stick to the head is high-sticking, an elbow to the head is elbowing, and so on.

Walkom said officials always have been concerned about head shots, even before it became a hot topic.

"People in this day think head shots are the big thing, but it's always been a big thing," he said. "I believe it's always been a big thing, but we just haven't labeled it."

Now that it has been vocalized by the players, Walkom imagines the issue will become more defined as it is debated, eventually allowing the rule to be tweaked in whatever way the GMs see fit.

"Maybe video speaks 1,000 words," he said. "You've just got to let the GMs go through it and process it. These guys have been around the game a long time and they are in touch with players every day, too, and they are the custodians of the game.

"I think it is very good to listen to the product, and that is the players, and then have the people that oversee the product, which is the general managers, digest everything and come up with something that they think will serve the players and serve the GMs in the same sentence. That's why we are here."

-- Shawn P. Roarke



GMs ponder pros and cons of fighting
The NHL's 30 general managers discussed the role of fighting during the first day of three days of meetings
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By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Staff Writer

NAPLES, Fla. – There is no ground swell to eliminate fighting in the NHL at this time. That much was easy to deduce after just one day at the 2009 NHL General Managers Meetings.

The consensus among the GMs is no one wants to see the pugilistic aspect of the game eliminated. But the power brokers meeting here in Southwest Florida for three days will continue to discuss fighting, the hot button topic in the hockey world, because issues ranging from safety and sense are now part of the conversation.

New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello, Washington's George McPhee, Vancouver's Mike Gillis, Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren, Minnesota's Doug Risebrough and Ottawa's Bryan Murray made up the sub-committee that addressed the issue of fighting Monday.

They will bring their findings to the entire group Tuesday.

"One of the statistics that we looked at is there have been 24,000 fights in some period of time and there hasn't been a reason to amend that yet," Vancouver GM Mike Gillis told NHL.com, "but being a progressive league and trying to make sure the game is as safe and entertaining as possible, you have to explore different options and that's the purpose of these meetings."

The main issue the GMs are discussing is safety of the players who do fight. They're all asking the same question:

"This will sound really silly, is there a way to make it safer?" said Toronto GM Brian Burke, an outspoken proponent for fighting. "For guys like me that believe fighting has an integral place in our game, what's the best way to do it so senseless or needless injuries can be averted? We have to look at that and that's what we're going to do."

The Ontario Hockey League is providing a model for the League to monitor. The major junior league adopted a new rule in January, following the death of Ontario senior league player Don Sanderson, who died after losing his helmet and striking he head on the ice, that any player who removes his helmet or undoes his chin strap during a fight will be issues a game misconduct and an automatic one-game suspension.

A similar rule is being discussed here, but some GMs are wary of putting it into the NHL.

"I think that's a reaction to players deciding they were going to unilaterally take their helmets off before a fight, so to discourage that activity they created a rule," Gillis said. "It's still in its infancy. You don't know what the result of that rule is or whether it's an effective tool or an ineffective tool. That was a reaction to a tragic event that occurred and I'm not quite sure whether it's applicable to the National Hockey League or not."

Gillis added "to make the analogy" between the OHL and the NHL "I think is really dangerous" because the NHL is guarded by the world's top officials, who are under a significant microscope. It's different in the OHL.

"(The NHL) is a very different environment than any other hockey league that exists today," Gillis said. "What might be right for the Ontario Hockey League might very well not be the correct answer for us."

Burke believes requiring players to keep their helmets on during fights could potentially cause more harm than good.

"I can tell you I have never seen a player hit his head on the ice in a game that I've been at, and I have watched a lot more hockey than the average person," Burke said. "I know it happens, but to me the risk of a player getting hurt is going to be far greater from a concussion or an injured hand. That being said, if a guy falls and smacks his head hard enough that he fractures his skull, than we have to look at that."

NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom told NHL.com the linesmen are already protecting the safety of the players by "jumping in when someone is vulnerable, or at least attempting to because, you know, they have their own safety to consider as well."

While safety is the No. 1 concern in fighting, most GMs would also like to see the so-called "staged fights" eliminated from the game. These are the fights that have nothing to do with retribution, defending a star player, etc.

"I'll be the first one to say I enjoy when guys square off and it's an even play. It brings energy to your building and it could bring energy to your team," Phoenix GM Don Maloney said. "But that gratuitous start, the two 250-pounders that look at each other and nod and say, 'You want to go?' 'You want to go?' 'What are you doing after?' That to me is just staged."

How the League plans to police against these "staged fights" is the stumbling block.

Burke, for one, isn't sure if the officials will be able to determine the difference.

"When I was playing in the American (Hockey) League, I went after a guy in a game who speared me two years before that when I was playing university hockey. Anyone upstairs can say it was a staged fight - well it wasn't a staged fight," Burke said. "I was going to get this guy and I was going to get him the first time I was on the ice with him. After the incident he yelled at me and said, 'What was that all about?' I said to him, 'You got me two years ago and I didn't get a chance to get your for two years.'

"It's not always a staged fight," he continued. "It could be in the last game they ran a skilled guy on your team. It could be a lot of things. A staged fight itself, if that's all it is, we can live without that. There is no question about that."

Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, though, believes there are times when an official can determine whether a fight was staged for "the event," he said, or if it was of the spontaneous nature in the game. He said finding a way to control that aspect is a conversation worth having.

"Did it just follow a goal? Is it right off the faceoff?" Regier said. "That's the work we have to do, the conversation we have to have, but I think most people know when it's of the spontaneous nature as opposed to the staged."

Either way, the pugilistic part of the game isn't going away. The players want fighting to be in the game and the GMs are backing them.

Now, they're ready to take the next step and make it as safe and sensible as possible.

"We want to do everything we possibly can to protect (the players) and make the environment safer," Murray said. "We want to correct what we can, knowing full well that it is fast and furious out there and that it is a contact sport and there is no stepping out of bounds. So, there are going to be people getting hurt but we want to, as best we can, control the environment a little bit more."

Campbell: NHL will address fighting
NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said the League is well-versed in the issues surrounding fighting and understands what needs to be addressed. Nothing, though, can be implemented overnight.

"We have had a number of rules over the years before my times in this job with the League that have addressed fighting, whether it be the bench-emptying brawl, whether it be the third-man in, whether it be the instigator," Campbell said. "We're at a point now where there are certain aspects of fighting that have to be addressed and it all hasn't been accomplished in one day. We have two more days of meetings and we'll address it."

Campbell said during the lockout he asked the competition committee to address fights late in the game because, "I was sick and tired of one coach complaining about the other coach sending people out and the next game he might do it. I said I know I can do something in supplemental discipline, but I want a hard and fast rule here so we incorporated a hard and fast rule."

Since the lockout, the rule has been if a player fights in the last five minutes of a game, both the player and the coach receive a fine. The result, Campbell said, has been a 19 percent reduction in fights in the last five minutes of games.

"It has worked well," he said. "Twenty-four percent of our fights occurred in the last five minutes of a game and now 4 percent of our fights occur in the last five minutes of the game. Whether you are for fighting or against fighting, I think any fight in the last five minutes of a game is stupid. It's got nothing to do with anything."

With a history of success in addressing issues regarding fighting, Campbell believes the League will come through again in due time.

"I think our group here is well-versed in our job today," he said. "We've got managers in there that have spent five decades in hockey - a guy like Glen Sather - so I think this group can look at it and at the end of this meeting, hopefully, address what we need to address about the topic of fighting."

-- Dan Rosen
 

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