TORONTO – As entertaining as shootouts can be, having them play a meaningful role in playoff races is not something the NHL wants.
So after 40 of the season’s first 262 games went to a shootout, the league’s general managers discussed at length the possibility of extending overtime Tuesday during their annual meeting following Hockey Hall of Fame induction night. Fighting, hybrid icing and the playoff format also came up.
GMs have been discussing making overtime 10 minutes to cut down on shootouts “to some degree,” according to Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings, but there isn’t a consensus yet on which format to adopt. Holland would prefer five minutes of four-on-four followed by five minutes of three-on-three, while Doug Armstrong of the St. Louis Blues and others want simply 10 minutes of four-on-four.
“I like the idea of the games being decided prior to the shootout, and if we had to extend four-on-four play I would understand that,” Armstrong said. “We talked about four-on-four, then a three-on-three. I’m not sure about the three-on-three yet because I don’t see it enough in our regular games in the 60 minutes or in the overtime to see what effect that would have.”
No rule changes on overtime or anything else came about, and they weren’t expected to. As usual, this get-together was designed to set up the next GMs meeting in March.
“A lot of ideas are discussed, whether it be rule changes or amendments, a lot of different things that get brought to the table here,” Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said. “And then the league, the managers, spend time getting prepared for that March meeting. Today was mostly, I found, just a discussion of guys bringing up ideas, different concepts.”
When it comes to overtime, any alterations proposed for next season may be as simple as changing ends of the ice to make it more difficult for teams to change lines. That’s an idea proposed by Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils, one that would have the intent that more tired players would lead to more goals before resorting to a shootout.
“Extended overtime, I’m kind of on the fence,” Peter Chiarelli of the Boston Bruins said. “We talk about four-on-four and then switching to three-on-three. I think any time that you can maybe create a more real hockey situation to determine the game, I think it’s good.”
Yzerman voiced support for 10 minutes of four-on-four. He was surprised when the conversation moved more toward three-on-three hockey.
“I think four-on-four overtime is extremely exciting,” Yzerman said. “Regardless of the teams playing I always find it to be some of the most exciting moments of a game.”
Extending overtime could get a very serious look when the GMs reconvene in Florida March 10-12, and Holland said he’d even be fine settling on seven or eight minutes instead of 10.
But as executive vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell pointed out, it would be unfair to decide such an important element of the game in one seven-hour meeting.
The same can be said of any rule changes, though the GMs did discuss fighting Tuesday, both in general terms and in relation to goaltenders after incidents this season involving Montreal tough guy George Parros suffering a concussion after his head hit the ice and Philadelphia goaltender Ray Emery skating over the red-line to pummel Washington netminder Braden Holtby.
“I would say that the general consensus in there was that we’re OK with where fighting is right now,” Holland said. “With regards to goalie fighting, we’d like to do something. We don’t really like to see goalies fighting.”
Emery was not suspended for his role in the brawl between the Flyers and Capitals because the NHL did not have a rule in place to serve as precedent. That could change after the March meeting if the GMs decide to make it an automatic suspension for goalies who cross the red line to fight.
“There are situations that arise that you can’t just paint it all with one brush, similar to the instigator in the last five minutes,” Campbell said. “I think that we need more time in a breakout meeting in March, but we discussed that fairly intensively today.”
Fighting is routinely on the agenda at these meetings, though Parros suffering a concussion on opening night as a result of a fall after fighting Toronto’s Colton Orr has made it more of a hot topic for those outside the industry. Within the NHL offices Tuesday, there wasn’t a seismic shift on the issue.
“My impression coming out is in that meeting today there’s not really a push for making any changes to the rules on fighting,” Yzerman said.
The GMs also got clarification on the playoff format, which could include wild-card teams crossing over because of total points even if four make it from each division in one conference. Under the new alignment and format, the top three teams from each division and two wild cards from each conference qualify.
“Certainly my personal opinion is wherever possible to stay within the division, it creates rivalries, less travel,” Holland said. “That’s obviously part of the reason why we went to two divisions in each conference was to build rivalries, less travel. Obviously there’s a crossover component, we talked about it today, and that’s why we’re going to continue to talk about it in March.”
Director of officiating Stephen Walkom briefed the GMs on hybrid icing, which commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday was an ongoing adjustment for players and officials. Walkom said there are roughly the same number of icing plays per game as last season, which was played under the traditional rule.
“All the players, coaches and the officials are on a fast-ramp learning curve to get this rule right,” Walkom said. “So far we’re getting better at. We haven’t had anybody slamming into the boards, and we have the same number of icings. That’s probably a real good thing.”
A bit farther from hockey was the discussion about bullying that arose in light of the situation with Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Yzerman said everyone sometimes needs to be reminded about what is acceptable and what is not.
“It’s something that I think is really with social media, with the cell phones, I think the sanctity of the locker room and all these 24/7 shows, you’re on a higher alert and it’s a workplace environment,” Chiarelli said. “It’s not the same workplace environment as here on Bay Street, but I think there’s parameters that you have to stand by. It’s just kind of a discussion we had (to) be aware and know that as managers and coaches, you’re responsible.”