Salary arbitration, NHL schedule, to be discussed Tuesday by NHL GMs

At the top of the list when they all get together for their first meeting since June 23 will be discussions on salary arbitration and the unbalanced schedule.

The GMs will hash out whether it makes sense to send a proposal to the NHL Players’ Association to modify arbitration or eliminate it all together and if so the nature that such a proposal would take.

If the GMs really want to do away with it, it’s not going to come cheaply because all indications point to the NHLPA having no interest in scrapping it.

“I believe the salary arbitration system is working as we expected it would and can’t see why players would want to make any changes in this area,” NHLPA executive director Ted Saskin said Monday.

The other hot button topic is the NHL schedule. The unbalanced format that came into vogue post-lockout has come under fire in some corners.

Currently, each club plays eight games against divisional rivals (32 in total), four against the 10 non-division clubs in its conference (40 in total) and only 10 games against teams from the other conference, five at home and five on the road.

The crux of the criticism is that fans in some cities don’t get to see young stars such as Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin or Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby or top-drawing teams like the Montreal Canadiens or Toronto Maple Leafs. And some are also getting bored seeing their teams play the same opponents over and over again.

Opinions vary depending among the GMs, which is why Tuesday’s discussion might get lively. While some want more games between Eastern and Western Conference teams, Jim Rutherford of the Carolina Hurricanes, for example, is at the other end of the spectrum. He plans to tell his fellow GMs that he wants intra-conference play only, with absolutely no games against the other conference.

What the fans want to see on the NHL schedule and what GMs need in order to win games aren’t necessarily the same things. Less travel means more rest for players.

“We certainly have to be cognizant of what our fans want,” San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said Monday. “I know in our market, sure they’d like to see all those teams from the East. But I also think if you asked them, ‘you have your choice from seeing all those teams once a year or giving our team a better chance to win a Stanley Cup?’ That vote might be split right there.”

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Wilson has one specific issue he’ll bring up Tuesday concerning the schedule.

“I do believe strongly that if we’re going to go play some teams in the East, the schedule maker has to, and I mean has to, take into consideration the teams that travel more miles and schedule it in a manner that when we do go East we play all those teams in that division on one trip instead of having to go back in three time zones three times a year,” Wilson said.

“We should not have to go East three times to fulfil our needs.”

Also Tuesday:

-GMs will be briefed on the status of the IIHF/NHL agreement, which expires at the end of this season. The NHL is scheduled to meet with the IIHF on Nov. 14. The timing is interesting given the next day, Nov. 15, the lawsuit from Metallurg Magnitogorsk against the NHL and the Pittsburgh Penguins, hoping to prevent Evgeni Malkin from playing, will be heard in U.S. federal court.

It’s precisely the kind of legal mess the NHL wants to avoid going forward, which means somehow getting Russia back into the next IIHF/NHL agreement.

-Colin Campbell, the NHL’s senior executive vice-president and director of hockey operations, will discuss the state of the game and get some general feedback from the GMs on what they feel is working well and what isn’t so far this season. There may be recommendations for possible rule changes that will be put on the docket for February’s two-day GMs’ meeting.

-Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s director of officiating, will have a general discussion with GMs on how his referees are doing one month into the season. That’s never a dull discussion.

Getting all 30 GMs in one room, meanwhile, also means face-to-face time when it comes to trade talks. But Wilson downplayed that.

“I can’t speak for other teams but I take calls every day and it’s rare that I go a week or two without talking to every GM,” said Wilson.