Perhaps it’s because there are only three former goalies in their ranks – those would be Jim Rutherford of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings and Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers – but it appears apparent that GMs in the NHL have finally grown tired of goaltenders gaming the system. It’s not as though there is a war on goalies, but the men who run hockey departments are satisfied that the pendulum has swung back.
There wasn’t much news out of the meetings held in Toronto on Wednesday. In fact, NHL executive vice-president Gary Meagher posited that it had been the first time in 15 years that there had been no rule changes proposed. He later changed that to, “it’s been a long time.” But you get the idea. The GMs are pretty satisfied with where the game is on the ice, including the reduction in chest protectors that followed changes to both pants and pads in recent years.
There have been some complaints about the chest protector from goalies who feel they are being put in harm’s way, but they were not getting a lot of sympathy from their bosses. “All 31 managers were totally on board with where we are,” said NHL senior executive vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell. “I think the fact that over time, which has been a long time, 20 years we’ve been working on goaltender equipment, the right way, the proper way. The players’ association is on board with it. And that, along with the rule changes, has opened the game up a little bit.”
Including the goal awarded to a team for winning a shootout, there have been 1,617 goals so far in the NHL this season for an average of 6.14 per game. That’s up from 5.94 at the end of last season, which was up from the several previous seasons. But it’s important to note that as the season progresses and the rates get tighter, there will almost certainly be fewer goals per game, so that number will likely come down. But even if it comes down to six per game, that would mark the first time it has been over that mark since 2005-06, when the on-ice product was drastically altered with a crackdown on restraining fouls and teams produced an average of 6.16 goals per game.
The GMs did discuss the possibility of injury, but they were comfortable with the equipment goalies are wearing now keeping them healthy. “We did discuss the fact that some goalies were complaining,” Campbell said. “And in some instances, the complaints went with their performances. There are forwards and defensemen who get bruises when they get hit with 100-mile-per-hour shots and we brought that to (the GMs’) attention and they had no concern with it.”
To add a little insult to injury, Campbell also vaguely alluded to the fact that the league would not tolerate goalies not being happy with calls on the ice. “We’re getting a few goalies banging their sticks,” Campbell said. “And I thought this would happen earlier, but goalies aren’t really happy if their coach doesn’t challenge (the call on the ice) some plays. It’s not the fact that they didn’t stop the puck, it’s the fact that they got interfered with. We don’t buy that lots of times and they put a little pressure on their coaches to make calls. We’re at 80 percent of the goaltender challenges remain the same. We told (the GMs) that’s a fact they should tell their coaches when they’re making a goaltender challenge.”
There were a few other things discussed, but not to any great extent. On the possibility of 19-year-old drafted players playing in the American League instead of being sent back to junior hockey, there does not seem to be a lot of traction because the league has a stake in the viability and quality of competition in the Canadian Hockey League. Nor, thankfully, does there appear to be much of an appetite for increasing the number of teams in the playoffs.
“We usually use this meeting as a preparation for our meetings in March,” Campbell said. “There really weren’t any rule changes that we discussed at this meeting.”