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Goalie restrictions could be first

2/11/2004

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 2½ 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.