NHL does away with research and development camp, more notes
NEWARK, N.J. -- Before the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings could walk the walk in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, the suits around the league had to talk the talk. So, with the general managers meeting in New York City Wednesday and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr addressing the media (separately, naturally), here are the bits of news from around the league:
• Two years after the reintroduction of the NHL Research and Development Camp, the league has done away with the summer event, where it can test the viability of rules changes. Instead, they will hold a meeting of players, general managers and coaches to discuss the state of the game and proposed rule changes. The main issue, as several general managers saw it, was finding a way to keep offense in the game and address what they call "slippage" in the standards of obstruction. One coach lamented to SI.com last winter about the amount of obstruction at the offensive blue lines -- none of which was being called by referees. And with the last couple postseasons featuring such thrilling themes as shot-blocking and passive 1-3-1 forechecking systems, the hope is that a meeting of the minds can figure out a way to reinvigorate the offensive side of hockey. At 2.66 goals per game, leaguewide scoring was the lowest it has been since 2003-2004. Sound familiar?
• With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire this September, upcoming negotiations between the league and the players' association took center stage, but both sides were dodging the spotlight. The two parties have not formally started negotiations yet, but they are ready to sit at the table. Fehr, who joined the NHLPA in December 2010 after a long career heading major league baseball's union, wasn't giving up much, but he did note that this round of negotiations will be set against the backdrop of all the concessions the players gave in the last round. "[The players] recognize that they made enormous concessions in the last round," Fehr said. "That is part of the backdrop that leads us into this round."
• Bettman announced the league earned a record $3.3 billion in revenue in 2011-12, a fact that is perhaps ironic given that two franchises remain in dire financial straits. The NHL-owned Phoenix Coyotes have a prospective buyer, and Bettman remains optimistic a deal can be agreed upon in the coming weeks, but it is still a ways away. Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek, who should be relishing in watching his team make the Stanley Cup Finals, is said to be refinancing the team's debt, and the commissioner said is on track to pull it off.
• The general managers also considered a handful of rule changes, including carry-over penalties in the playoffs and hybrid icing. The former, proposed by Detroit Red Wings G.M. Ken Holland, would mean players committing penalties in the closing minutes of postseason games would start the subsequent match in the box. The logic behind the rule would be not only to curb late-game message sending, but carrying over penalties would still penalize the offending team in a playoff series. The rule, however, seemed to gain little traction Wednesday. Hybrid icing, too, did not take, as general managers look to see how the rule is adapted in the American Hockey League, pending the minor league's approval of the rule. Moreover, several G.M.'s intimated that the rule might not be necessary as players seem to be more conscious of safety on the ice. "What we're noticing is that players are already adapting to player safety issues when it comes to icing," Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis said. "If they don't have a chance on that puck, they're not risking putting their stick in another player's feet, so if that continues, it'll be the best for everyone."
• On the subject of on-ice safety, Bettman indicated that the newly formed Department of Player Safety "appears to be working." He said there was a "modest" decline in reported concussions this season, the first time in three years the number has gone down. The commissioner suggested the decline was due to evolving player behavior, adapting to new rules and harsher penalties. Still, there are plenty of issues of player safety that will also get some attention in the summer's bargaining, particularly issues of punishment and due process (see: the appeal of Raffi Torres' 25-game suspension still under consideration by Bettman).
• Colin Campbell, NHL senior vice-president, said there would be no suspensions or fines for Phoenix players who were outspoken in their criticism of officials after the Kings eliminated the Coyotes in the Western Conference semifinal. Campbell spoke by telephone to all the players -- including captain Shane Doan and star defenseman Keith Yandle -- and told them that the situation might have been different if their actions had occurred during the regular season. The league executive added that Doan was especially apologetic for his complaints about a non-call on a knee-on-knee collision involving Los Angeles' Dustin Brown and Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival.
• Another sticking point of CBA negotiations may be NHL players' Olympic participation in Sochi 2014 and beyond. Both Bettman and Fehr expressed some concern over the Games' impact given the upcoming locations-"[Sochi, Russia won't be] like going to Vancouver Salt Lake City," Fehr said-and small market teams around the league do not see as much benefit. Still, there will likely be immense pressure from NBC (rightsholders to the NHL and Olympic Games) and the players themselves, who seem to relish the opportunity to play for their countries. "In a vacuum, most players-perhaps an overwhelming majority of players-would like to stay involved with the Olympics," Fehr said. "But that's if you ask them the cold question. If you then get into, if you'd like to go to the Olympics, then this, this, this and this, then you might get some differences."