NHL GMs on track with goalie gear, expansion draft ideas
The discussions were open and wide ranging at this week's NHL general managers meetings, but as the gathering winds down it appears the sessions haven't produced anything as earthshaking as three-on-three overtime or the coach's challenge that were crafted at this time last year.
That said, there was a focus on changes that would emphasize or enhance the display of skill. And at least one decision was made that might have a significant impact on scoring next season.
Here's a look at some of the key points to arise from this year's gathering.
Thumbs up to: streamlining goalie equipment
After years of half-measures and failed compromises, it appears that both the GMs and the players' union are on board with ensuring that goalie equipment is designed solely to protect the player and not to stop pucks.
The proposed changes, summed up nicely here by former netminder Corey Hirsch, would see equipment become more form-fitting and take into account the physical differences between a goalie who is 5' 11" and one who is 6' 6".
There's no telling how this will impact goal scoring, although the consensus is that it would help shooters to some degree. The key is ensuring that goalies are succeeding based on their abilities and training, rather than their gear. That might mean the end of the line for some keepers who benefit from the additional bulk. But as NHL goalie supervisor, and former netminder, Kay Whitmore said, "If it takes a little more skill to play the position, so be it.”
The perception is that smaller goalies will suffer the most from these changes, and that may wind up being true. But bigger goalies could struggle with this as well. One executive who is not involved with the meetings told SI.com that he believes they'll be more vulnerable through the five hole. "Longer legs, narrower pads, [that extra split second] to get down into the butterfly," he said. "It's going to test their athleticism."
That's not a bad thing. Goalies will adapt to the changes—they always do. But it's how they adapt, by relying on reflexes and technique and speed, that will allow the most skilled keepers to rise to the top. And that's something everyone can get behind.
Thumbs up to: ending icing on the penalty kill
This one is still in the discussion phase, which means we won't necessarily see it anytime soon. But like the three-on-three OT concept that took Detroit GM Ken Holland years to push through, this one is worth the battle.
The idea here is to take away the ability of a shorthanded team to ice the puck as a time killer without repercussion. On the surface, it's a no-brainer—a team that's already broken one rule shouldn't be gifted the right to break another. By employing a consistent icing protocol, power plays should become more effective, goals should be more plentiful, and teams will have the incentive to play within the rules to avoid being shorthanded.
The devil though is in the details. It isn't simply enough to whistle the play dead and bring the puck back down the ice as if it were an even-strength icing infraction. Defending teams would gladly pay that price to relieve pressure/disrupt the flow of an opponent's power play. Instead, it has to be treated as a delay-of-game offense, penalized by a two-minute minor. That element would both increase power play success rates and demand a higher level of skill on the PK.
At least one GM likes the idea of a hybrid rule—allowing a defending team to dump the puck, but only after they've successfully transitioned it out of their zone. That's not ideal, but it's a viable compromise.
This belongs on the front burner the next time this group convenes.
Thumbs down to: behind-the-net violations
There was some exploratory talk of preventing players from waiting behind their own net with the puck while their team changes, via the implementation of a three-seconds-in-the-trapezoid rule.
“Maybe it’s like the key in basketball,” Sabres GM Tim Murray said. “That might be easier to enforce than forcing teams to forecheck.”
In theory, it's not a bad idea. A defending player who is forced to make a quicker decision with the puck, especially in the middle of a change, is more likely to make a mistake that leads to a turnover that might lead to a goal.
But it's such a minor issue. How often do defenders park it for more than three or four seconds during an average game? And is that the sort of penalty you want to see called routinely when black-and-white calls for goalie possession in the trapezoid or unintentionally clearing the puck over the glass are already so controversial?
The last thing the game needs is another trapezoid-related penalty. This might come up again at their next session, but it doesn't appear to have legs.
Thumbs up to: a deeper pool of talent available via the expansion draft
Still no word on whether the league will, or won't, expand beyond the Original 30, although we'll have an answer before this year's draft on June 24.
What we do know is that any new franchise that is welcomed to the fold will be given access to some decent talent in exchange for that $500 million entry fee.
According to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, protected lists will be much smaller than those afforded to existing teams ahead of the last expansion draft in 2000.
The biggest change: Only one goalie can be protected.
Beyond that, the choice is three defensemen and seven forwards or eight skaters of any position. Players with fewer than three years of professional experience are exempt.
How many players will be lost by each existing team will depend directly on the number of expansion franchises awarded. But while the cuts won't be deep numerically, the quality should rise significantly from what was available in the past. That means a better chance for these teams to establish themselves as viable playoff competitors in short order.
No decision has been made on whether a no-movement clause will force a team to protect a player, but at this point all signs lead to that being the case. That's a tough break for teams hoping to ditch unwanted contracts/create salary cap space, but a win for the players who were able to negotiate for them. Not sure how this will impact a team like Dallas that gave NMCs to both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, but there's time to work out the details.
The numbers game
• The Capitals are the first team to clinch a playoff berth, marking their 26th postseason appearance and eighth in their past nine seasons.
• Marc-André Fleury is now the sixth goalie in NHL history to win 30 or more games in eight or more seasons. The others: Martin Brodeur (14), Patrick Roy (13), Henrik Lundqvist (10), Ed Belfour (9) and Tony Esposito (8).
• Bearded wonder Brent Burns of the Sharks leads all NHL defensemen with 26 goals and ranks second with 64 points. His totals have tied the single-season franchise records for a blueliner set by Sandis Ozolinsh in 1993-94.
• The Patrick Kane loophole will be a hot topic of discussion at today's general manager meetings.
• Team USA staff are looking at a pool of 20 players to fill out their World Cup roster.
• Here's the list you've been waiting for: which NHLers do, or don't, believe in aliens. The space kind.
• Maybe this year's Blackhawks squad isn't unbeatable after all.
• Are the NHL's most penalized team, the Columbus Blue Jackets too physical? Or are they not physical enough?
• Everyone who mocked Dallas' trade for Kris Russell is enjoying their “told you so” moment.