To figure out two things NHL general managers will be discussing at their annual March meeting, look no further than the controversial game the Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings played in mid-January.
First, the Red Wings scored the tying goal after officials missed the puck hitting the protective netting, then the Kings wound up losing in a shootout. That could affect playoff positioning in the Eastern and Western Conferences, and that's a concern for everyone.
No different than many fans, GMs hate to see a game end on an incorrect call and generally don't like to see one end in a shootout. So it's only natural that altering or extending overtime and expanding video review will be hot topics on the agenda for meetings Monday through Wednesday in Boca Raton, Fla.
When it comes to overtime, the hope is to have fewer games even reach the shootout, which was instituted after the 2004-05 lockout as a way of eliminating ties. Since then, 13.3 per cent of all regular-season games have gone to one, and that's seen as too much.
"I would prefer for our game to be decided by playing hockey instead of the skill part of the game, which is the shootout," Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars said. "It's really tough. You can play a great game, play a great overtime and then you go to a shootout and just because you lose a shootout it feels like you've lost the game—and you have, and it hurts because you played such a good game. I would rather lose a game by playing the game."
Through Saturday, 121 of 962 games this season have gone to a shootout (12.57 per cent). Each team has participated in at least four, while the Washington Capitals lead the league with 15 of them through 64 games.
A handful of general managers said in recent weeks that there was an appetite to reduce the number of shootouts by making some changes to overtime. Detroit GM Ken Holland has long sought adding time or a three-on-three element to overtime, and it has come time that Don Maloney of the Phoenix Coyotes figures more members of the group are "open-minded to reviewing it and discussing it."
"In the past, it was generally touched on but deferred," Maloney said. "And I think as you go on with the parity of the league, I think we all have to take a harder look."
Jim Rutherford of the Carolina Hurricanes usually sits near Holland at these meetings and is in favour of his proposals to change overtime. After plenty of talk over the years, perhaps more will get on board.
"I think we're heading that way," Rutherford said. "It's been talked about a long time, this is not something new. I don't know how many minutes it'll end up being—the total minutes in overtime. That's really where the big discussion will come. But I think the fact that this has been discussed for a few years now, I think it's gaining some momentum going into this meeting."
What that momentum will turn into remains to be seen. Rutherford and Holland would like five minutes of the already-established four-on-four followed by five minutes of three-on-three, while Doug Armstrong of the St. Louis Blues voiced support for simply making four-on-four overtime longer.
But, as Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks knows, change in the NHL tends to go in "phases." So it's possible that the first change to overtime is a very subtle one: teams changing ends like they do in the second period so that there's a longer way to go for players to get off the ice for line changes.
"I would be a hundred per cent in support," Maloney said. "If you look at the second period and the (long) line changes how often mistakes are made, and bad line changes lead to rushes. All of a sudden you do that in overtime with four people and the tiredness of the game, I think that's a natural evolution, myself. I think that's the first step."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock brought that up in Sochi after seeing overtime in the women's gold-medal game between Canada and the United States. Mistakes led to three penalties and then a power-play goal 8:10 into overtime.
"The NHL looks at that right there, we want overtime to be over in a hurry, all you do is flip ends, make it as hard as you can," Babcock said while at the Olympics. "It's harder on the long change."
Another subject that will get plenty of discussion is video review, which is currently limited to the situation room in Toronto determining if a goal was good or not. Even though it was just one instance, that Jan. 18 game between the Red Wings and Kings is example A for expanding review.
"You can count on one hand how many times they miss a puck hitting the net, but that specific case and it ended up as a goal, yeah, it probably should've been (reviewed)—maybe if the video department had that authority, it would've been used," Maloney said. "And I think we all agree that in that case that was just wrong, and we need to correct that."
Several general managers cautioned that too much replay can be a bad thing. Just as it's being debated in baseball and football, the biggest pitfall to more video reviews is the time they can take.
"Our game is part of momentum and keeping the game going," Rutherford said. "But at the same time, the league has always said that they want to get goals right. We saw an example (in Detroit) where it had nothing to do with the guidelines of how the league proceeds, but we didn't get one right.
"So that's something that we'll discuss, I'm sure. But there's a fine line there: How many times can you review things in a game without slowing it down to change the time of a game another 15 minutes."
In that same vein, Nill would like to see "tweaks" to video review in important cases but doesn't want the NHL to become a "robotic" game with frequent calls to the situation room.
Still, there's a ground swell to at least add replay in isolated cases, like on plays goals are scored on. That may not mean instituting a challenge system for coaches right away but perhaps something more simple.
"It would be nice to just have a monitor in the penalty box for the official to gather as much information to make the right call because they're closest to the action like they have in other leagues," Wilson said, pointing to the model used in the NFL and NBA.
Some things, like goaltender interference, would require a stricter interpretation to be subject to video review. Penalties, like players putting the puck over the glass or getting a double-minor called for high-sticking, would fall into another category to be considered.
"I think everything that's critical to the outcome of the game, if it's conveniently available, we should review," Columbus GM Jarkko Kekalainen said. "Not to disturb the flow of the game and the time of each game as a whole—we don't want games to last four hours or anything like that. But with the technology these days I think that there should be some kind of a system where all the critical plays can be reviewed so that we don't see the (wrong) outcomes."
With three days of meetings scheduled on Florida's east coast, general managers are expected to delve into a host of other topics, including the regulation—or elimination—of goaltender fights and the impact of the falling Canadian dollar on next year's salary cap.
At December's board of governors meeting, the 2014-15 cap was estimated at just above US$71 million, rising from the $64.3 million ceiling for this season. Kings GM Dean Lombardi told the Los Angeles Times that he and his colleagues were advised it could be as low as $US68 million as the Canadian dollar continues to fall.
As of Saturday, the loonie was worth roughly 90 cents U.S., after being above 95 cents midway through 2013.
Goalie fighting is expected to at least be touched on after it was broached at November's meeting in Toronto that followed the infamous incident between Ray Emery of the Philadelphia Flyers and Braden Holtby of the Capitals. Rutherford and Maloney indicated they believed the issue was a bit overblown at the time.
"Really they're so rare, aren't they? That was an isolated (incident)," Maloney said. "If we start to see goalie fights every other game, yeah, OK, maybe there's a problem. I don't see it being a problem. That was a one-time incident that nobody liked, but I think our officials and the people that review the games, they do a pretty good job of cleaning up anything that's outside the rules. So I don't see a real mandate to start over-regulating the game in that area."
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