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Faceoff changes recommended by GMs could make real impact on NHL if approved

Boston Bruins center Carl Soderberg and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson battle on a face-off during an NHL hockey game, in Boston, Nov. 14, 2013. Faceoff changes recommended by GMs could make a real impact on NHL if approved. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Charles Krupa

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Boston Bruins center Carl Soderberg and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson battle on a face-off during an NHL hockey game, in Boston, Nov. 14, 2013. Faceoff changes recommended by GMs could make a real impact on NHL if approved. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Charles Krupa

A tired team ices the puck late in a close game and wants to buy as much time to breathe as possible. So one of the wingers steps in on the ensuing faceoff knowing he'll commit a violation to get thrown out and replaced by the regular centre.

It's a play many general managers have seen often and want to get rid of.

"We all know now it's a gimmick," Bryan Murray of the Ottawa Senators said.

So at their annual March meeting, NHL GMs recommended overhauling faceoff rules. Instead of getting tossed out, violators would be forced to stay in and move 12 to 18 inches back, while the faceoff circles themselves would be altered to push players on the outside further apart.

The goal of these changes is to cut down on some of the tomfoolery going on and make things more fair.

"Players and coaches have caught up the management very quickly on why we wanted to have that hurry-up faceoff," Doug Armstrong of the St. Louis Blues said. "We're just hoping to get the integrity back to where we were."

Integrity of faceoffs has been debated by this group for several meetings now. If players are going into draws trying to get replaced, that represents not only wasted time but often a less by-the-book situation on the second go.

That's because a second violation carries with it what could be a severe punishment, but one that's rarely given out.

"What we've seen is, the penalties are stiff for the second guy getting kicked out," Armstrong said. "It's a two-minute penalty. I don't think the referees are comfortable calling that, and we understand that. The integrity of the second faceoff is less than the first one because the puck's just going down, regardless."

If the new rule is approved by the competition committee—which is not a slam-dunk—and then the board of governors, it could also make centres more cognizant of breaking the rules the first time because it's that much harder to win a faceoff further away from the dot.

Craig MacTavish of the Edmonton Oilers, who made a playing career out of winning those kinds of draws, supports it because it could have a real impact.

"I like the idea of a centreman that gets thrown out stepping back," MacTavish said. "I know the leverage that you use. It should stop the cheating on the first faceoff."

Armstrong's proposal to copy the international rule of having players at least three feet apart on the outside of faceoff circles could also mean "less B.S.," in the estimation of the New York Islanders' Garth Snow. Murray thinks it just cleans up faceoffs because there would be fewer battles along the walls.

Of course there's also the possibility that it helps the same effort the NHL has been working at for almost a decade: more goals.

"That eliminates the scrum along the boards and allows the quicker player to get to the puck and generate scoring opportunities," Armstrong said.

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