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Oilers, Lightning drama add sombre tone to NHL GM meetings

Oilers GM Craig MacTavish talks to his Devils counterpart, Lou Lamoriello (Getty Images)

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Oilers GM Craig MacTavish talks to his Devils counterpart, Lou Lamoriello (Getty Images)

There were no shortage of issues arising out of the latest GMs meeting at the NHL’s Toronto office Tuesday. But while some of those issues were league-related – including goalie fights; the extension of overtime; and the new playoff format – other issues were specifically related to unfortunate teams and those issues were not positive.

One of the first to leave the meetings late Tuesday afternoon was Oilers GM Craig MacTavish, who had a fire to extinguish in the form of the comments made a day earlier by Igor Larionov, the agent for Edmonton star winger Nail Yakupov. Larionov told ESPN.com that Yakupov, who has been a healthy scratch on multiple occasions in his sophomore professional season, was open to a trade. But after a frustrated MacTavish challenged the ESPN reporter who broke the story via Twitter, he denied there was anything at all to trade rumors involving Yakupov and chalked up the youngster’s struggles to the common development patterns of fledgling NHLers.

“It’s not a friendly league to young players,” MacTavish said. “It’s a veteran league and young players are going to have their ups and downs. It’s just common sense. I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s a bit of a distraction for us to have to answer to these comments, but I don’t know the basis of the comments. I’m only reacting to some twitter feed.

“Our feelings about Yak are we like him. I like Yak a lot. I don’t feel any different today than the day that we drafted him. I feel like he’s going to be a great, dynamic scorer in this league. Did I assume it was going to happen in his first 60 games in the NHL? Absolutely not.”

Shortly after MacTavish headed for the airport, a similarly grim Steve Yzerman came out of the elevators to meet the media. He didn’t have an unhappy star to worry about; rather, the Lightning GM had to face an immediate future without his team’s superstar center Steven Stamkos, who underwent successful surgery earlier that afternoon in Boston to stabilize the right tibia he fractured Monday against the Bruins. Yzerman wasn’t ready to put a timeline on Stamkos’ return from the injury and acknowledged it’s not going to be possible to simply go out and acquire a replacement for Tampa Bay’s top player.

“Realistically, there’s nobody in our organization, there’s nobody apart from a handful of players in the league who we’re not going to be able to get anyways, that can fill the role that Steven’s playing for us,” Yzerman said. “We’ll see how we do as a team and we’ll look at every option there is to fill the void.”

Yzerman, who is also Canada’s architect for the men’s hockey team at the 2014 Sochi Games, wouldn’t speculate as to whether Stamkos (who would have been a lock to make the squad) could still be named to the Canadian team’s roster in the hope he could return to the ice in time for the tournament, which starts Feb. 8. He generally preached patience any time a question was asked about a particular player (P.K. Subban, for instance) and stressed there was a lot of hockey to be played before final Team Canada roster decisions are made Dec. 31.

Otherwise, the GMs discussed fighting in the game – and in particular, fighting between goalies – but no new rule was agreed on and the general sense provided by GMs who spoke to media was that there’s no substantial rule on fighting as a whole. That said, some GMs made it clear the issue of goalie fights wasn’t going to fade away.

“We talked about goalie fights and we’re going to discuss it again (at the next GM meetings) in March,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. “I would say the general consensus in there was that we’re OK with where fighting is right now. With regards to goalie fighting, we’d like to do something. We don’t really like to see goalies fighting.”

Holland continued his battle to extend the overtime portion of games from the current five-minute period that precedes a shootout. But there were variations on how to do that. Holland prefers five minutes of 4-on-4 action followed by five minutes of 3-on-3 play. But the GM group also explored a number of other options, including the possibility of extending overtime to seven or eight minutes. No formal decision was made on a format change, but the issue will be revisited at the next meetings.

Finally, the league provided clarification to GMs on the playoff format, which could see wildcard teams cross over due to total points should four teams from one division qualify for a post-season berth.

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