It’s going to be a tough act to follow. Impossible, really.
When NHL general managers met at this time last year in Boca Raton, Fla., they delivered a decision that has substantially and historically altered the game.
The problem? Too many shootouts. The solution? Three-on-three hockey for overtime.
The results have been impressive bordering on spectacular, with overtime having quickly become arguably the most exciting part of the game today. In terms of ending games without going to a shootout, the numbers have levelled off a little bit as the season has gone on, with the number of games ended in three-on-three down to 61 per cent at the three-quarter mark of the season from 65 per cent back in the first quarter.
But in terms of entertainment, it’s been a smashing success. The players union gets some credit here, too, for the GMs basically handed the NHL competition committee a choice between going three-on-three for the entire overtime or starting OT with four-on-four play, then switching to three-on-three partway through the extra session.
The competition committee chose the former, and it has proven so far to be the right decision, showcasing the raw unpredictability and skill level of the modern NHL game in a crowd-pleasing way.
Last year, the GMs also recommended a coach’s challenge for the first time for goalie interference and offside calls, and while that went through, there are concerns about the challenge process which will be on the agenda when the GMs meeting this week in Boca Raton.
As usual, there will be lots to talk about:
The general response to allowing coaches to ask for replay review on certain calls has been positive. But there are questions about whether the replay review should take place using a tablet device at the arena or back at hockey ops in Toronto, particularly offside calls.
Also, there’s concern that there is too much frivolous use of challenges as a delaying tactic when there’s little reason to believe a play will be overturned, and there will be a proposal that an unsuccessful challenge should result in a two-minute penalty for that coach’s team.
The league is expected to install new cameras to help the review of offside calls for the playoffs, one at the base of the blue-line on the side of the rink with the penalty boxes, one on an extended pole above the glass on the side of the rink with the player benches.
The belief is this should help improve the consistency of calls. There are some GMs, however, who aren’t comfortable with having linesmen do the review at the rink.
Also, expect a proposal on defining more clearly what an offside is, specifically a move to a "breaking the plane" format that may help in instances where a player’s skate is not on the ice when the offside call is made.
Some GMs would like information on the league as to what the rules for an expansion draft and protected lists may be to help guide them in terms of player signings for this summer. For example, a team signing a player to a two-year contract may choose to make the salary much larger in the second year to scare off new clubs from picking that player.
The problem, of course, is that there is no expansion plan yet, with investors in Las Vegas and Quebec City still on stand-by waiting for the NHL to make a decision.
Draft Lottery Tweaks:
There appears to be some support for doing something to block teams from winning the lottery too frequently, a response to Edmonton again getting the No. 1 pick (and Connor McDavid) last summer despite not being the worst team in the league.
Under one plan, teams that finish 30th would always be eligible to win the lottery and pick first, but teams that don’t finish dead last wouldn’t be able to win the lottery and pick first more than one in five years, or some such limitation.
It’s down, lingering around 5.3 or 5.4 goals per game all season after finishing at 5.5 goals per game last year.
"My personal opinion is that right now we’re a 3-2 league, and I would personally like to see us more as a 4-3 league every night," said Nashville GM David Poile. "But how do we do that?"
There’s talk in some corners of new rules on defensive schemes, perhaps a rule that would force a team to always have at least one forechecker in the offensive zone when the other team has the puck rather than placing five defenders in the neutral zone.
But the expectation is while increased offence will generate discussion, no new measures are likely to come out of these meetings.
NHL goalie supervisor Kay Whitmore is expected to advise the GMs on the progress he’s making on streamlining goalie equipment. This appeared to gain momentum at the all-star game in Nashville when goalies like Cory Schneider and Braden Holtby whole-heartedly threw their support behind making equipment adhere more closely to the actual size of a goalie, rather than allowing netminders to wear all manner of oversized gear.
Whitmore’s group has been paying particular attention to body armour and shoulder protection, as well as goalie pants. He’s hoping to have the new regulations in place for next fall’s World Cup of Hockey.
As was the case last year, NHL managers are hoping to get a rough idea of what the cap number will be, but won’t yet know whether the players union plans to approve the five per cent "escalator" clause that bumps up the maximum but ends up digging into the hated escrow number.
Uncertainty over whether the current cap of $71.4 million will stay flat or even go down was cited as one reason why there was much less activity at the NHL trade deadline last month.
There’s a belief that the period between the second week of June and the first week of July has now become the prime time period when NHL clubs set their rosters through trades, the draft and the first week of free agency.
There was little or no trading between September and January, and limited activity in February. These meetings, then, are seen as a chance to re-kindle trade discussions that started before the deadline but didn’t produce actual movement.