30 Thoughts: NHL to ban shot-blocking techniques?

George Stroumboulopoulos and Elliotte Friedman discuss all the top headlines from around the NHL including the report that teams are enquiring about the availability of Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel.

One year after decreasing the size of goalie pads, the NHL’s competition committee is taking another hard look at netminders’ equipment. Under scrutiny: the chests, jerseys and pants.

There will not be time to institute changes for 2015-16, but there is a desire to have a proposal ready in time for the following season. The idea is to prevent gear that is more about blocking than it is about protection.

The discussions come at a time when the NHL’s average save percentage (.915) is the highest since the statistic arrived in 1983-84 and the mean Goals Against Average (2.52) is the third-lowest in 59 years. (Both figures courtesy hockey-reference.com.)

Apparently, one of the considerations is tapered jerseys, which would make it harder to hide oversized equipment. The tighter the sweater, the easier it is to see how big goalies are in, say, their chest protector compared to how big they are in person. Before last season, the committee shortened the height of pads, from 55 percent to 45 above the distance between the centre of the knee and the pelvis.

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It isn’t just the goaltenders being targeted. NHLPA special assistant Mathieu Schneider declined to comment, but, according to a couple of sources, he introduced thoughts about disallowing certain shot-blocking techniques. Without his commentary, it’s difficult to know exactly what he proposed, but in 2008, then-Canadiens GM Bob Gainey recommended banning full-body sliding while in the defending zone.

I’ve spoken to players about this before, and they make a good point. You’re going to have to legislate it out, because many are told that if they don’t block shots, they won’t play. The group also discussed how far away from the net interference should be allowed, since both the GMs and players recognize there’s nothing wrong with battles in front. But, when those skirmishes move towards the corner or the high slot, does that violate what’s supposed to happen?

These ideas must go back through the process before they can become law, but it’s good to see both sides coming up with different thoughts. After all, these proposals are less radical than bigger nets.


1. Other competition committee stuff: For the coaches’ challenge, there will be an NFL-style league takeover late in games. During the last minute of regulation and in overtime, the NHL decides on reviews. The coaches won’t have to make the call.

One of the things I wondered was why there was nothing on puck over the glass, because it was included in the general managers’ original proposal. There were a few responses, including: too many reasons to stop play already and replays didn’t always provide a clear answer. Whatever the case, there wasn’t enough push for it.

2. The NHL and NHLPA indicated a decision on overtime could still come before the GMs and Board of Governors meet later this month in Las Vegas. A few sources indicate the status quo is considered the “least attractive option.”

It sounds like the NHL prefers the AHL’s four-on-four down to three-on-three method, because it’s tried, tested and true. The players seem to prefer immediate three-on-three. Don’t know what the solution will be, but they are trying to find one.

3. Pretty significant development when the players, in their own meetings prior to the competition committee, decided they would consider agreeing to use the full growth factor as allowed by the CBA. That would raise the salary cap by an additional five percent. No one knows yet what the number is going to be, but that probably puts it around $71 million.

What changed? Well, there was some evidence that if the target percentage was less than two, the cap might actually go down, which doesn’t help anyone and would put the NHLPA on another collision course with the NHL.

The players were convinced that going to five doesn’t put a major impact on their escrow, and, as reported several times, were asked if they would squeeze their brethren when they benefitted from the same mechanism. A final decision should come in the next two weeks.

4. For the first time since 2004, the NHL appears to be closing in on a transfer agreement with Russia. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final that things were getting close, and it’s apparently a four-year agreement — tying into the length of the other deals with European countries. Right now, the NHL and KHL agree to honour each other’s contracts, but this will allow a per-player fee should a jump be made.

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5. In a radio interview Friday, I discussed Evgeni Malkin, saying he was frustrated by losing, other teams were hearing rumours he wanted a change of scenery, but there was zero chance it was going to happen. It went wild, to the point where it was trending in Russia. There were strange accusations about my motives but I didn’t have any motives, really.

Ultimately, my words are my responsibility. Malkin wants to win there. I do think everyone in the organization is frustrated that Chicago’s three wins away from its third Cup since 2010, while the Penguins haven’t been back to the Final since 2009. What complicates everything is the team is for sale and ownership is hypersensitive to anything seen to hurt the price. Disappointing all-around, but I own it.

6. Let’s finish some other Pittsburgh stuff first: Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang will have a $31-million cap hit between them — between 40 and 45 percent of the team’s available space. That leaves about $40 million for up to 19 players. You’ve got to save somewhere and that’s going to be on the blueline.

Letang, who was having a Norris-level season before injury, will be surrounded by Olli Maatta (in good health, we hope) and some combination of Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Ben Lovejoy, Derrick Pouliot and maybe Rob Scuderi. It’s going to be a young group. This leaves some wiggle room upfront, where GM Jim Rutherford will try to find another Patric Hornqvist — the kind of player who can comfortably fit alongside either Crosby or Malkin. That’s a real skill, because the two franchise players ask their linemates to play a little differently. Crosby likes to hit holes with speed, the puck delivered at that time so he can take advantage. Malkin likes to come back and get it, carry a bit more and have his wingers read off him. Complicating matters are the uncertain futures of Pascal Dupuis (blood clot) and Chris Kunitz, who had a tough season.

7. There were reports during the season that the Penguins and Hurricanes discussed a deal to bring back Jordan Staal. My sense is it never went anywhere at the time. Don’t think Carolina was interested. It’s also possible the Penguins weren’t the only team to be rebuffed.

8. Upon being hired as coach of the Oilers, Todd McLellan said he spoke with Crosby at the Worlds about what to expect with Connor McDavid. So, what did Crosby tell him?

“He didn’t tell me anything about Connor,” McLellan replied. “We just talked about [Sid’s] path and what he’s gone through. How he was handled, living with Mario [Lemieux], stress, teammates’ expectations, coaching changes, winning a Cup.”

What was the best advice Crosby gave?

“Being around good people away from the rink. He didn’t say it in those words, but that’s what I took. Your teammates create the environment around the rink, but once you leave, at 18- or 19 years-old, you need people to look out for you.”

McLellan laughed when I followed by asking if that meant McDavid was going to live with Kevin Lowe.

“We’ll get together and figure it all out.”

9. What did McLellan learn about Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall at the Worlds?

“I knew they had an exceptional skill-set, that they don’t need many chances to score goals. In a short-term environment, with not a lot of adversity, were they willing to accept playing the way that’s required to win? Were they prepared to do things the team needed them to do, understand the whole is more important than the individual? And that went for everybody. We told them we could do unreal as a group, and above average as individuals. They chose the group. That’s why we won.”

10.Pittsburgh was one of nine teams to meet with UFA-to-be defenceman Mike Reilly last week at the combine. Reilly is expected to cut his list to three or four in the next couple of days. He may visit some of the cities before making a final decision.

Apparently, some of the players on the US World Championship team advised him to go through this process, saying he had a unique opportunity and should take advantage.

11. Of all the potential trades Toronto could make, the most intriguing is Phil Kessel. He’s played five-straight full seasons, with 151 goals in that time. Even in a down year, which this was, he had 25.

At the combine, there were a few teams asking others their opinion of his game, his ability and his future. Word is teams are now calling the Maple Leafs, and asking, “If we want to do this, what’s the price?”

Toronto is prepared to do it, because by the time it’s ready to win again, Kessel may be out of his prime. But my guess is, if it happens, it’s still a couple of weeks away, because of the complexity. Everyone has to do their due diligence, including Kessel, because he’s going to have to want go to the team that wants him. And, from what I gather, things aren’t far enough along to involve him yet.

12. One defenceman who knows Mike Babcock’s style on the adjustments the Maple Leafs’ blue-liners must make: “It takes time to trust the system. You’re used to skating backward, but they want you to attack the forwards. It’s different. You’re always taught, ‘Don’t get beat one-on-one.’ Now, you pressure almost as soon they get the puck. I was not accustomed to it, but once you figure it out, it’s fun to play, because it limits the other team’s time with the puck.”

13. Toronto assistant GM Kyle Dubas told reporters the team “would definitely look at” trading the fourth pick, if the right offer came their way. Arizona GM Don Maloney told ESPN.com’s Craig Custance that he had three calls about the third spot, but wasn’t sure yet what he’d do. After the top two picks, there are some differing opinions about how this draft is going to go.

Watch Columbus. Everyone knows the Blue Jackets want young defencemen. There are some nice ones in this draft. They are at eight. Do they need to go up to get their guy? And, more importantly, can someone move down and still get who they want? Moving down is risky.

14. Maloney has some history with moving down, but never when he’s had such a high pick. In 2007, he dropped from 21st to 30th. In 2010, he went from 22nd to 27th. But he kept his top 10 choices. The GM made it pretty clear the Coyotes need to find centres. Where do you get them? The best place is the draft. You have to believe he doesn’t make a move without knowing it brings him long-term help down the middle.

15. With Sean Burke looking for a new organization, Arizona attempted to recruit Rangers’ goaltending guru Benoit Allaire. Allaire has a home in the area, but declined. There’s a long-term commitment in New York.

16. With Dougie Hamilton as Boston’s number-one priority and a tight cap situation, a couple sources said this week the Bruins informed UFA-to-be Carl Soderberg that he was unlikely to be re-signed. Teams are always looking for centres, and here’s an interesting stat: Soderbergh had 36 even-strength points. That’s tied with Claude Giroux, Hornqvist, Kessel and Jason Spezza, among others.

17. Don Sweeney would not comment on the Soderberg story, but I did chat with him a little over a week ago. He had some interesting comments on becoming Boston’s GM, as he was considered the likely choice going in.

“People who say, ‘You’re the sentimental favourite, you deserve this?’ That doesn’t exist. The seat is warm when you get the job and it only gets hotter.”

18. Sweeney’s been pretty open about the substance of his conversations with Claude Julien, who was retained for next season.

“I have a lot of respect for Claude, and admire his principles, structure, and accountability. … I know we have to change and evolve, play a little more aggressively. Teams took advantage of us sitting back. You have to exercise your will.”

They were also willing to discuss personnel, although Sweeney added, “We had 96 points here, we don’t need to be stripped down.”

I was talking about that with another exec, and he said the dangerous thing for Boston is if Julien becomes the scapegoat should things go wrong early next season.

“Then you’ve wasted your training camp and year,” he said. “Now that they’ve kept him, they should commit to him.”

19. Sweeney on Milan Lucic: “He is a foundational player. … He was up and down like the rest of our team, didn’t recover from our dips as we normally did.”

The GM also pointed out David Krejci’s injuries added to his inconsistency. As the Bruins talk about getting back to their identity, no one fits it better than Lucic, who has one year remaining on his contract. Sweeney would not discuss that, but it will be a fascinating decision. The safe play is to see what he brings next season, but any good agent will tell you the numbers never go down.

20. Boston-based agent Paul Krepelka, who worked with Orr Hockey, sold his interest in the business and is leaving the representation world. Krepelka would only say that he is looking for a new challenge, but it would not be the least bit surprising if a team found room for him to join their front office.

21. Let’s do some Stanley Cup: Alex Killorn was born Sept. 14, 1989, one day prior to draft eligibility cutoff for 2007. Jay Feaster was Tampa’s GM then, and he credits scout Jake Goertzen for taking a chance on a player who was still in high school, one year away from university. A year later, no way was Killorn lasting until the 77th pick, where the Lightning got him.

“I liked his hockey sense, he had a knack for being at the right place at the right time,” Goertzen wrote in an email. “And he had the talent to go with it. We met, Alex, his parents and I, in Montreal and it went well so we drafted him.”

When he got to Harvard, the coach, Ted Donato, who played 796 NHL games, saw a gifted offensive player and said, “If you learn how to defend, that will get you into the NHL to show your offence.”

22. Feaster added that when he was in Calgary, the Flames tried to get Killorn. But Steve Yzerman wouldn’t do it.

23. Steven Stamkos played 18:46 in Game 2, second-most among Tampa forwards. Because it’s been so much of a storyline, I went back and looked at his ranking throughout the playoffs. He’s led the front-liners in ice-time once in the post-season. He’s been second three times and third four times. Other notables? He’s been sixth five times (the largest total), seventh three times and ninth(!) once. There’s a surprising amount of variance. Then again, as one coach said about Cooper, “He’s in the Final. He must know what he’s doing.”

24. One GM, after watching the Blackhawks steal the first game: “They can teach a lot of teams lessons, they keep doing the same thing and never panic.”

25. Another coach, after watching Chicago come back to beat Anaheim, had an interesting note about the next step for Ryan Getzlaf.

“Great player. The only thing he’s got to change is how high he plays in the defensive zone. He likes to wait for the puck, and then can take off in more open ice with the defence backing up. It works, unless you get an aggressive team like Chicago who knows how to attack down low, especially because Getzlaf isn’t there. He’s going to have to come lower.”

26. Philadelphia wasn’t the only team that looked at an NCAA coach. San Jose is believed to have considered (I can’t say for sure there was an interview) Boston University’s David Quinn.

27. When Jeff Blashill is named Detroit’s coach sometime this week, it will be interesting to hear what he says when asked about Dylan Larkin’s NHL readiness. Blashill was complimentary of Larkin, who got key minutes and played well in the AHL’s Western Conference Final.

You know the Detroit way. They didn’t promise Larkin anything and he’s going to have to beat out multiple players to make the team. Larkin will be 19 in July. Riley Sheahan played one game as a 19-year-old in 2011-12, Tomas Tatar had nine in 2010-11, Jiri Hudler 12 in 2003-04. The last one to really play in Detroit was Jiri Fischer, with 52 games in 1999-00.

28. The Red Wings probably took a run at Jeff Petry in free agency, but, with Niklas Kronwall at $4.75 million, they weren’t going to the $5.5 million the Canadiens offered. My guess is Petry knew the only places where there was more money weren’t as appealing as Montreal. The organization did a good job here, not only did Max Pacioretty, Carey Price and PK Subban make it clear that he was wanted, but, from the moment he was traded there, the team worked hard to make the Petrys comfortable. That made a difference, on and off the ice.

29. Marc Bergevin may need to make a “money-out” trade to lessen the impact on the cap after the Petry signing. This is in my own head, but I look at Minnesota and Montreal and wonder if, in any way, there’s a Mikko Koivu deal to be made. He’s the kind of player the Canadiens could use at centre.

30. I was very surprised no one waited to talk to a Scott Arniel (Rangers) or a Kevin Dineen (Blackhawks) about any of the vacant coaching positions. All were filled beforehand.

Vancouver’s AHL coach, Travis Green, will be a candidate next season. And, the whole time these searches were going on, I wondered why we never heard the names of Davis Payne or John Stevens from Los Angeles. In their cases, it sounds like they are locked in to the Kings for now (no outs), not that either would be complaining. Stevens may be the highest-paid assistant coach in the NHL.

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