Phoenix goalie Mike Smith dominated last season, but was accused of diving in the Coyotes' playoff matchup against the Blackhawks. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Diplomacy being what it is, there weren't exactly a payload of bombshells being dropped once the standards of rule enforcement meeting broke up at the NHL's Toronto office Wednesday. Players, coaches, GMs, league execs and on-ice officials had discussed the state of the game in terms of penalties and the message was clear: All anyone wanted was consistency, but they had to establish what constitutes a standard call.
“It was a lot of good discussion and getting on the same page about where we might want to go as a league,” said Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “More fine-tuning. Definitions, video clips regarding interference on the forecheck, slashing – but as far as major changes, there was nothing along those lines.”
But parsing the words of those involved, one thing was abundantly clear: Players have, can and will continue to take any underhanded advantage they can on the ice in order to win – and that's not an indictment, if you ask me.
“Players are smart,” said Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. “They can adapt to any situation.”
One in particular that Tippett acknowledged was “embellishment,” or in less PC terms, diving – the scourge of the 2011 Stanley Cup final between Boston and Vancouver.
Most intriguing was the fact players divulged their secrets for getting away with hooks and holds in a room where refs were present. When asked for specific tricks the pros had revealed, whistle man Wes McCauley had to laugh.
“I'm not going to throw those guys under the bus,” he said.
Offense was a hot topic on the day, specifically what was perceived as a lack thereof since the uptick established after the last lockout in 2004-05. While Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman noted that he'd like to see players open up more shooting and passing lanes in the offensive zone, he wouldn't agree to any sort of regulation on shot-blocking, which some have suggested would help goal-scoring.
“The game is played now in a much more defensive mode,” Yzerman said. “You see five guys collapsing towards the net, overloading in the corners - systems have changed. Teams have learned to play different ways.”
One suggestion Yzerman had was a continued look at the size of goalie equipment. NHL senior executive vp of hockey operations Colin Campbell also weighed in on that issue, alluding to the group that perhaps finds loopholes in the rules better than anyone else – the “so-called goalie union.”
“We've been beating that up for a long time,” Campbell said. “You always want to decrease it, but it's the same thing with elbow pads and shoulder pads – eventually it becomes a safety issue. They (the netminders) always seem to find a way to get bigger. We would do it if it was easy, but it's been 12 years.”
Finally, there's the role coaches play in tweaking the system, which again comes back to defense. Like the puck-over-the-glass penalty from the last CBA talks, Campbell sees a mandate to get more pucks in the backs of nets.
“We want to reward offense and punish defense,” he said. “Because that's what coaches can teach.”
The artistry of an Ilya Kovalchuk or a Pavel Datsyuk is a little more tricky to write on a whiteboard - but that's why the fans love when those highlight reel moments happen.
In other CBA news, an early afternoon meeting was called off in favor of a smaller group of heavy hitters getting together in the morning. Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, Donald Fehr and brother Steve Fehr met and talked about procedural issues for the forthcoming negotiations (they'll meet again in Toronto Thursday, then in New York City next week), as well as some player matters, which were undisclosed.
Donald Fehr characterized the chat as “business-like” and seemed to be in good spirits.
“You get up in the morning hoping to make progress,” he said. “And if you don't, you get up the next morning and try again.”