Rules, labor issues to be discussed among GMs
DETROIT -- The NHL still is in lockout mode, which isn't stopping the league's general managers from discussing ways to inject life into the increasingly defensive-minded on-ice product.
GMs representing all 30 franchises were to meet Thursday and Friday at an airport hotel to discuss proposed rules changes. Those changes could include cutting down the size of goaltending equipment, increasing the size of the nets, limiting the goalie's ability to play the puck behind the net, widening the blue lines and instituting shootouts to eliminate tie games.
Many in the league see the changes as a necessity, given the unprecedented cancellation of the 2004-2005 season and the lack of scoring punch.
The Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers compiled 400 or more goals a season five times in the freewheeling 1980s. In 2003-04, the Ottawa Senators led the league with 262 goals and 11 teams failed to break the 200 mark.
The cancellation of the season marked the first time a major pro sports league in North America lost an entire schedule to a labor dispute. The fear is the resulting damage could be irreversible for hockey, which already has limited appeal in the United States.
Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford emphasized that his group only has the power to suggest rules changes. All ideas would need to be approved by the NHL's board of governors. Other suggestions also would have to be approved by the players' association, particularly changes that would reduce the size of goalie equipment.
"I believe the league has put a lot of work and a lot of research into potential possible changes, and it's too early to tell until you really get all the general managers in one room and start to discuss the positives and negatives about different rules changes," Rutherford said.
The players are expected to have a voice during the two days of meetings. Goaltenders Martin Brodeur of New Jersey and Marty Turco of Dallas are expected to attend, as are Detroit Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan and players' union president Trevor Linden, among others.
Shanahan is no stranger to meetings involving potential rules changes. In December, he convened a 21-member panel of current and former players, GMs, coaches, television personalities and executives. The group presented 10 ways to improve the game, including clearly defining and enforcing obstruction, putting into effect one-minute penalties in overtime and streamlining goaltender equipment.
On Wednesday, a group of goalies met in the Detroit area with NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell and representatives from the NHLPA.
The meeting was confirmed by NHL executive vice president Bill Daly, who declined to discuss specifics. But it is clear the idea of bigger nets and smaller goalie pads won't be popular with the league's netminders.
"I believe there were players in today looking at the new equipment," Rutherford said Wednesday evening. "The main thing with the goalies, obviously, is to protect them. They're, when you get right down to it, the most important player on your team. And they can win and lose playoff series for you. So, you don't want your goalies getting injured."
The NHL also will provide the GMs with an overview of the labor issues, Rutherford said.
The NHLPA rejected two league proposals earlier this week during a meeting in Toronto. The NHL, in the meantime, filed a second charge against the union with the National Labor Relations Board, this time challenging a threat of decertification for agents representing replacement players.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press