Goalie restrictions could be first

Updated: February 11, 2004, 10:52 AM ET
Associated Press

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Life for NHL goalies got a little tougher when general managers came up with significant changes to get more pucks in the net.

During the second day of the meetings, which wrap up Wednesday, GMs proposed that goaltenders wear smaller pads and not be allowed to handle the puck behind the goal line.

"I think the couple of changes that we made will really make a difference in how the game is played," Islanders GM Mike Milbury said Tuesday.

The general managers agreed to the suggestions during a five-hour meeting that pre-empted a planned golf outing at a resort near the Las Vegas Strip.

"We're attempting to restrike the balance between offense and defense," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said after the marathon session that also included three members of the NHL Players Association and Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman.

The width of goalie pads would be reduced from 12 inches to 10 -- where they were before 1989 -- and the players would no longer be allowed to go behind the goal line to get the puck.

"I think the goaltenders now are so good at puck handling, it's difficult to get in and forecheck," said Detroit GM Ken Holland, a former goalie. "They've perfected the position."

Bettman came with a mandate to GMs to produce a better product, and the group put in long hours during two days to achieve that goal.

Scoring has dropped by 2 goals per game in the last 15 years to an average of five.

"We now have to go back and take the package and flush it out, make sure we haven't omitted anything or need to clarify something," Bettman said. "Then we have to blend it all together and make sure that it all fits together neatly."

New Jersey's Martin Brodeur has no problem with narrower pads, but he and Dallas' Marty Turco have virtually become third defensemen because of their ability to play pucks dumped in behind the nets.

"With the equipment, whatever they want to do is fine with me. But preventing somebody's talent and somebody's reaction, I'm not hurting anybody," Brodeur said after a 4-1 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday night. "I'm not setting a bad example for kids by playing the puck behind the [goal] line, so I don't know if this is something I should be penalized for.

"But the league is at a state right now that it looks like they don't know what they're doing and they're just looking for ways to try to improve the game. Coming from people that know hockey, it's amazing that they're about to come out with these things."

The group came up with several adjustments that could become rules once they are discussed by a panel of hockey experts put together by Bettman and voted on by the board of governors this summer.

Most couldn't remember a time when suggested changes weren't supported by the board.

If the proposals are approved, the group will have transformed the face of hockey. And most of the changes would take effect by next season -- unless there's a lockout after the collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15.

The nets would be moved back 3 feet toward the end boards to 10 feet. The blue lines would also move in 3 feet to keep the distance the same between the blue line and the goal, and increase the neutral zones to 60 feet from 54.

Before the 1990-91 season, the goal was moved to 11 feet and then to 13 eight years later.

Also back is the tag-up offside rule, which would allow an offside player to get back onside by just touching up at the blue line. The hope is that it will increase the flow of the game and lead to fewer whistles.

"The major changes regarding the goaltender handling of the puck and the tag-up rule are somewhat interrelated in trying to keep the game going and get more flow and more forecheck and thus more offense," Milbury said.

The GMs also will ask the AHL to experiment with awarding three points for a regulation victory, two for an overtime victory, and one for an overtime loss.

A bigger aspect to this change is the introduction of a game-deciding shootout. A shootout winner will also get two points, while the losing team gets one. Tie games would be eliminated.

That and expanding the width of the blue and red lines would be tried for a year in the AHL before being reconsidered by the NHL.

"The consensus is we have a really good game," Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said. "Making some changes and tweaking the game as we go along makes sense."

The general managers plan to meet again within two months for further discussion and then they will pass recommendations over to the panel, expected to be convened in July, Bettman said.

"It's up to the group that Gary's putting together to see if it'll go any further," Capitals GM George McPhee said.

Two other rules interpretations are expected to take effect in the next few days. If a puck should go in while the net is wiggling on its moorings, the goal will now stand.

Also, if a player is streaking toward a loose puck and headed for a breakaway, a penalty shot may be awarded if the player is dragged down before he is in possession of the puck. In the past, he would have to have already acquired it.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press