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NHL GM’s seem to have little appetite for major rule changes

BOCA RATON, Fla. — If the NHL learned anything from wholesale rule changes coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, it’s that the game can change awfully quick.

So when general managers started to talk Monday about altering overtime, expanding video review and a host of other topics, there was plenty of bluster and hearty debate but not much momentum for big changes. There’s a reason for that.

“Since 2004, there have been a lot of changes in the game and we have to be careful you don’t change too much,” New York Rangers GM Glen Sather said. “We’ve had a track record of making it worse in some cases. It’s still a great game.”

It’s a game that could see improvements in some areas, most notably reducing the number of shootouts and preventing game-deciding incorrect calls. That’s why when the league’s 30 general managers broke into three groups of 10 on the first day of their annual meeting, one group spent a lot of time discussing ways to change overtime and another looked at more opportunities for video review and the possibility of a coach’s challenge system.

On each front, there didn’t seem to be an appetite for major changes like three-on-three in OT or full-scale replay like the NFL uses.

“Once you bring up one scenario it always affects something else,” Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars said. “It’s like an octopus, grows legs. You have to be careful.”

General managers were nothing if not careful even when throwing around plenty of ideas in separate “breakout” meetings at Boca Beach Club on Florida’s east coast. One group was tasked with studying goaltender interference and how reviewing that would work.

The most likely area for change is in overtime, though Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings was disappointed there wasn’t much support for adding three-on-three or extending it beyond five minutes of four-on-four. Having more games end in a shootout (136) than in overtime (100) this season and also historically is a problem GMs want to remedy, but that might start with baby steps.

“I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to get more minutes, but we talked about longer changes,” Holland said. “We talked today about after 60 minutes possibly having a dry scrape of the ice.”

Changing ends like the second period to force longer line changes and lead to more mistakes and odd-man rushes had “pretty unanimous” support in the small group, according to Garth Snow of the New York Islanders. Scraping the ice before overtime instead of before the shootout could happen as well, though extending game times is a significant issue.

Shootouts are, as well, but the theme from GMs was that fans like them over ties and there doesn’t need to be radical changes made to overtime as a result. One of those that was discussed was the idea of adding a three-on-three element — but that didn’t get much backing, even after a lot of discussion about it in November.

“I can’t see it being changed for a while,” Sather said. “It was tough enough getting four-on-four. Three-on-three is a bit of a pipe dream, in my opinion.”

Holland, who has long been a proponent of changing overtime to cut down on shootouts, would have liked to gather support for that — or at least more time four-on-four. Also, to no avail, though Holland wasn’t sure why, so he told reporters to ask the other 29 GMs.

“When it comes to extra minutes added, you’re talking about your best players playing more. ... They play enough already,” George McPhee of the Washington Capitals said. “(And) we don’t see three-on-three much anyway in hockey, and we think this works pretty well as it is.”

The NHL’s video-review system works well and gets goal calls right more often than not, enough that Major League Baseball borrowed ideas from the situation room in Toronto, and the NFL may soon. But after the Red Wings scored a goal on Jan. 18 against the Los Angeles Kings that shouldn’t have counted because the puck hit the netting, the subject of increased video review became an important one.

Craig MacTavish of the Edmonton Oilers said that situation dominated the talk about expanded video review, which included debate over putting in coach’s challenges.

Bryan Murray of the Ottawa Senators wouldn’t mind that.

“I like the idea of a coach’s challenge, but I think if we are reviewing the things that are important then we don’t need the coach’s challenge,” Murray said.

 
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