Johnston on NHL: Visor debate could be resolved

New York Rangers' Dan Girardi (5) checks on teammate Marc Staal (18) who was hit by a puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 5.

TORONTO – The firestorm of distrust that surrounded the NHL’s collective bargaining talks has given way to more peaceful times in the world’s top hockey league.

But will peace lead the way to some harmony among the group tasked with overseeing changes to the game?

An answer to that question should start to emerge when the competition committee gathers Tuesday for its first meeting since the ink dried on a CBA that will last until at least 2021.

Virtually every candid conversation with a member of the group — either past or present — is bound to include a laundry list of complaints about its effectiveness. Formed during the 2004-05 lockout, the competition committee was envisioned as a collaborative way for voices throughout the NHL to help shape its future.

Reality has yet to come close to meeting that ideal.

However, with the assurance of labour peace for a long time to come and a handful of new faces set to attend Tuesday’s meeting, there was at least a small hint of optimism that better times may be ahead.

“I always keep hoping it will be constructive,” one participant, who requested anonymity, told on Monday. “I wish we could talk more real common sense hockey. We should be figuring out what the game needs.”

As mentioned in this space last week, the agenda item most likely to make headlines coming out of Tuesday’s session is an announcement from the NHL Players’ Association on the results of a poll it conducted with players about making visors mandatory.

If enough players voted in favour of mandating protective shields for rookies entering the league, the rule will be put in place in time for the 2013-14 regular season.

The NHL’s 30 general managers discussed that topic during their annual March meeting and agreed that they would like to see such a rule created.

“Our managers are for grandfathering visors,” NHL executive Colin Campbell said at the time. “All players coming into the league would wear visors. We wouldn’t ask players now who don’t wear them to wear them. …

“The NHLPA told us they had some traction in that area.”

Two other items set to be examined by the competition committee on Tuesday came directly from the GMs meeting.

The managers would like to see the introduction of hybrid icing — which gives referees the discretion to blow a play dead and is designed to reduce dangerous collisions while continuing to promote a race for the puck — along with a reduction in the height of goalie pads above the knee.

Among the other items on the agenda is the embellishment of infractions by players and a discussion on standardizing equipment for skaters.

Will some common ground be found?

There will almost certainly be additional issues raised at a table surrounded by a variety of stakeholders in the game. Everything from the standard of officiating to the amount of scoring to supplemental discipline has come under public scrutiny during the ongoing playoffs.

It was the competition committee that ushered in the series of widely acclaimed rule changes that followed the end of the lockout in 2005. In fact, that was essentially the body’s first act of business and still stands as its brightest moment.

Over time, the committee has acted more as two blocks rather than a collective looking to work through issues together.

With the five NHLPA spots filled by players and the five league spots occupied by a combination of GMs and owners (and in Tuesday’s meeting, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle), discussions have often pitted one group against another.

“It doesn’t really operate properly,” one member said.

The atmosphere has created plenty of frustration over the years.

Veteran New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur was an original member who decided to quit in 2007 after seeing how ineffective the group became.

“I didn’t feel I was making a difference, and I hate wasting my time when it doesn’t seem to matter,” Brodeur said at the time. “It’s hard when nothing’s improving and your name is associated with it. I didn’t want to live with that.”

All these years later, the competition committee remains part of the NHL’s collective agreement and everyone holding power within the league can now enjoy the luxury of focusing on the future rather than the past.

Does that mean there might actually be some peace and harmony in our time?

Come Tuesday we should have a better idea.

Here’s a list of attendees for Tuesday’s competition committee meeting at the league office in Toronto
A * denotes a voting member

*David Backes, St. Louis Blues centre.

Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner.

*Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames winger.

Colin Campbell, NHL’s senior executive vice-president of hockey operations.

*Randy Carlyle, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach.

Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner.

*Ron Hainsey, Winnipeg Jets defenceman.

*Ken Holland, Detroit Red Wings general manager.

*Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues defenceman.

*David Poile, Nashville Predators general manager.

*Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks goaltender.

Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA’s special assistant to the executive director.

*Ed Snider, Philadelphia Flyers owner.

Don van Massenhoven, referee.

*Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager.

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