Before we all go off getting all excited, yes, GMs talked about the possibility of making nets bigger at their annual November meeting Tuesday afternoon. But they talk about a lot of things and the vast majority of them never end up coming to fruition.
But if you think the men who run the hockey operations departments in the best league in the world are going to go off half cocked and propose more white space around their goaltenders, not happening. First, the GMs have to come to a consensus on whether or not about 5.3 goals a game constitutes a lack of offense in the NHL. Some would like to see more scoring, others think the game is just fine. For these guys, it’s more about scoring chances than it is how often pucks are being put behind the goalies today.
This is not to say that there will never be bigger nets. Eighty years ago guys like ‘Shrimp’ Worters, all 5-foot-3 and 135 pounds of him, tended the same four-by-six foot goals that today’s over-equipped behemoths do, so that might actually make sense. But that will only come after all other avenues are exhausted and only after a lot of sober second thought.
And as Colin Campbell, the league’s director of hockey operations pointed out, the logistics of it all would make it a huge challenge.
“If you’re going to do it, how are you going to do it?” Campbell said. “Just the NHL? The American League? The CHL? International hockey? Where do you stop? If we’re going to do it, people might want to invest in a net-building company because we’re going to build millions. There are a lot of problems you don’t think about.”
And the question few have pondered is, what if the league actually makes nets bigger and players still can’t score? Then you’ve dramatically altered the rules of the game and made a move that can’t be undone and it hasn’t even worked. The National Lacrosse League actually experienced a drop in scoring when it increased the size of its nets, so it might not be the cure-all panacea everyone believes it is.
The feeling among the GMs was that making nets bigger would be a last resort and that there is still a ways to go with goaltending equipment before then. “When you talk about scoring, where do you want to start?” asked Nashville Predators GM David Poile. “Do you want to start with the goaltending equipment? Do you want to start with all of the congestion in front of the net, all the shot blocking? How about taking out the trapezoid? We could go on and on. Really, the question is, are we unhappy about the number of goals being scored? I think it gets down to personal preference.”
One thing that has produced offense this season is 3-on-3 overtime. Even though some players have expressed their opposition to it – which is odd, since the players insisted on 3-on-3 from the outset instead of 4-on-4 followed by 3-on-3 – there was unanimous praise for the tiebreaking method. Entering Tuesday night’s games, 30 of 43 (or 69.8 percent) games that were tied after regulation time had been settled in overtime. Last season, just 136 of 306 (or 44.4 percent) of games had been settled in the 4-on-4 overtime format.
“As managers, we really like it,” Poile said. “It’s probably the most exciting thing that has come into our game. It has accomplished exactly what it has set out to do. Personally, I think it’s very exciting. The games I’ve been to, both at home and on the road, fans are standing up for the overtime. I just wish our team was a little better at it.”
The coach’s challenge that was introduced this season was also discussed at length and generally speaking, the GMs are happy with it because they are resulting in the right calls being made. There is still a lot of variance on what constitutes goaltender interference, which Poile referred to as “the toughest call in hockey.” Some GMs would like to see them take a little less time and there is talk of expanding the role of the people in the “war room” in Toronto to perhaps aid and speed up the process. One example Poile used was that some coaches are using it in lieu of a timeout, knowing they’ll be wrong but using it anyway.
“What we talked about is that when it’s so obvious, the war room can get to the referee right away and say, ‘Hey, this not offside. Drop the puck right away and get going,’ ” Poile said. “What happens now is the guy comes to bench, has to put the headphones on and get the iPad out. If the war room knew right away it’s not offside, bang, drop the puck right away. Just tweak it all the time.”