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NHL GMs meeting overshadowed by Leafs, Senators, Panthers news

DETROIT - The NHL's 30 GMs discussed items such as no-touch icing and the instigator rule Monday but the real news came outside the room.

Toronto Maple Leafs interim GM Cliff Fletcher sped through reporters while trying to catch a plane but not before confirming he was getting closer to hiring a new head coach.

"We're in negotiations right now with a coach," said Fletcher. "Hopefully we will get it resolved in the near future."

While Fletcher didn't name the coach by name, sources confirm it is veteran Ron Wilson, who was fired last month by the San Jose Sharks after a second-round loss to the Dallas Stars. Wilson was believed to be on his way to Toronto on Monday night to meet with the Leafs.

A hiring of a coach lends to the speculation Fletcher is intent on staying on board longer than the summer as the Leafs struggle to find a replacement for the fired John Ferguson.

"Am I interested in keeping it? Not permanently, no," Fletcher said of the GM job. "But I'm prepared to continue as long as necessary until the issue is revolved favourably for our board."

The Leafs have long been rumoured to be pursuing Brian Burke for the job, but the Anaheim Ducks are insisting he complete the final year of his contract as GM with their team. That deal expires after next season.

"There's no change, I'm under contract," Burke said after the GMs meeting.

Wilson, meanwhile, would be replacing Paul Maurice in Toronto.

Maurice was fired by Fletcher last month. The Florida Panthers have identified Maurice as one of their candidates, a source confirmed Monday.

"I'm in the beginning of the process and I've identified certain candidates that I want to proceed with some interviews in the week coming up," said Panthers GM Jacques Martin, while not mentioning anyone by name.

The Ottawa Senators also continue their coaching search.

"Right now just going through a process of interviewing," said Senators GM Bryan Murray. "I've got one more guy this week and maybe a second one. I might bring an individual back for a second interview next week.

"There's no particular deadline but it would be nice to have it done by the (June 20-21) draft."

Murray would not disclose names but it's believed he's already interviewed former Atlanta Thrashers head coach Bob Hartley and former two-time national junior team coach Craig Hartsburg. A source also told The Canadian Press that Kitchener Rangers head coach Peter DeBoer was next on his interview list.

Meanwhile, there was business at hand during the GMs' five-hour meeting:

-There was further talk of the icing rule;

-An update on the lack of a player transfer agreement with the IIHF and the impact on the entry draft later this month;

-An discussion on injury disclosure;

-More talk of whether the instigator rule should be mended.

There were also other minor topics discussed. The GMs had agreed after their last meetings in February to shelve any talk of the icing rule for three years but that changed after the gruesome injury to Minnesota Wild defenceman Kurtis Foster in March. He suffered a broken leg when pushed into the board on a race for the puck on icing play.

"Ultimately the Foster incident brought it back to light," said Wild GM Doug Risebrough. "There's just too much contact too late. They have to discourage that - whether it's the official yelling or just the players showing, 'If I can't win the race and I can't get close to the puck, the race is over for me."'

Still, going to the no-touch icing which exists in Canadian junior hockey and international hockey does not interest the majority of the GMs.

"We're concerned with the health of the players but also with the flow of the game," said Martin. "It probably deserves more discussion at a later time.

"We're trying to find another mechanism that doesn't hurt the flow of the game," added Martin. "Maybe a solution that's in between."

There was talk of the hybrid solution in the USHL, where a linesman whistles the icing play if the defenceman is ahead at the faceoff circle.

The NHL Players' Association is in favour of going to no-touch icing because it wants to avoid further injuries on these types of play. The union will likely send that message through its players on the competition committee, which next meets June 13 in Toronto. The competition committee is the NHL's rules body made up of GMs and players.

"I have to discuss with the NHLPA and (executive director) Paul Kelly what we discussed here today so that we can come prepared for the competition committee meeting," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's executive vice-president and director of hockey operations.

"We'll go over what our managers want to talk about and we'll go over what their players want to talk about."


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