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Rules, labor issues to be discussed among GMs

4/7/2005

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.