GM Meetings, Day 2: goalie interference, offsides and taxes

David Amber, Nick Kypreos and Elliotte Friedman discuss the development of goalie interference reviews during the GM meetings, stating that both players and the league are moving towards leaving the decision to the situation room in Toronto.

BOCA RATON, Fla. – As the NHL seeks to solve an unsolvable problem, they are narrowing the sphere of influence on goaltender interference reviews.

Rather than having 34 different referees render final decisions, there’s a push to shift the task to the Fearsome Five in charge of the Toronto-based situation room: Colin Campbell, Mike Murphy, Kris King, Rod Pasma and Kay Whitmore.

To be clear, those men aren’t to be feared. They’re to be feared for. Assuming the NHLPA and NHL board of governors sign off on the proposed change – a good bet – they’re going to be handed a political hot potato a few weeks before the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“My opinion on that is you can put the King of England in there … the team, the coach, the players, the fanbase are not going to like the answer,” Campbell said Tuesday. “My opinion is it doesn’t matter who is giving you the answer, they’re not going to like the answer if it’s something in a key game.”

The biggest games are oh-so-close.

Take it from here, boys.

That the NHL general managers are expected to wrap up their annual March meeting on Wednesday with a proposed in-season rule change speaks to how serious the situation has become. Heck, Buffalo’s Phil Housley became the latest coach to outright state that he doesn’t understand the rule following a game on Monday night.

There were just 170 coach’s challenges for goaltender interference through the first 1,100 games this season – a little more than one per night, on average – but they’ve generated a disproportionate amount of focus and debate.

Internally, the league says referees only landed on a call the video room didn’t agree with on five or six occasions. It is those small handful they’re looking to smooth over now.

“What I’m hearing from the managers is they want consistency,” said Campbell. “It’s not who is doing it, it’s that we’ve got five guys in there that participate in it, two that do 90 per cent of [the guys] and in the playoffs we’ve got one individual that does them all.”

It doesn’t make the call themselves any easier to make. But it does add an extra layer of accountability for GMs who would like to see the rules applied in a more predictable manner.

“You can clarify the standards, but each referee and you and I and everyone has a different opinion within that room,” said Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. “Everyone has a little different opinion on ‘Did it impact the goaltender?’ It’s subjective, so no one’s ever going to agree 100 per cent on the vast majority of them.”

And so, the prevailing thought goes, shrink the number of voices involved in the final call.

The GMs are pushing to have that happen before the end of the regular season. If the NHLPA signs off, all 31 owners must register a “yes” vote by fax to bring it into effect immediately.

Here are some other news and notes from Day 2 of the GM Meetings:

Offside Challenges

One area where there won’t be change is how offsides are reviewed.

After kicking around the possibility of adopting a more liberal interpretation of possession and control when a player crosses the blue-line, there wasn’t enough support to enact a revised rule. It’s the second straight year that’s happened.

“I don’t even think we got to the vote last year,” said Campbell. “Some people wanted to leave it as it was. The managers have a good feel for the game. They have a feel for what their coaches and players are thinking, and that’s where they’re at.”

The head of the NHL’s hockey operations department is among those who would like to see the rule changed to allow players with a skate off the ice to be considered onside. But he can live with the status quo after Tuesday’s discussion.

“It goes to a vote of the room,” said Campbell. “We need two-thirds (support) to take it to the competition committee and eventually the board of governors. We got about 10 managers who felt that it was a problem and we should move it and the rest felt it was working fine.”

Maybe next year.

Paying Taxes on Trades

The NHL has been in touch with U.S. Congress about a new tax law that could see its American-based teams forced to pay capital gains taxes if they trade an asset for something more valuable.

The new law was signed by President Donald Trump and has raised concerns inside Major League Baseball and the NBA, according to Monday’s New York Times, and like those leagues the NHL is trying to get a handle on exactly what the fallout will be for its clubs.

“We are looking in to it,” commissioner Gary Bettman told Sportsnet on Tuesday.

According to the Times: “The law changed a corner of the tax code that mostly applies to farmers, manufacturers and other businesses that until recently could swap certain assets like trucks and machinery tax-free. But by adding a single word to the newly written tax code — ‘real’ — the law now allows only real estate swaps to qualify for that special treatment.”

While professional sports aren’t believed to have been targets of the change, an unintended consequence could see teams taxed when they trade players.

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Mittelstadt Watch

Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill expects to have clarity on the future of top prospect Casey Mittelstadt by the end of the week.

The first order of business is determining whether the eighth overall pick from last year wants to return to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore season.

If he’s willing to turn pro, Mittelstadt could join the Sabres or their American Hockey League affiliate before the end of this season. That would require him to sign an entry-level contract – which would come with a $92,500 signing bonus and could see the first year immediately burnt off by playing one NHL game – or potentially an amateur tryout agreement with the AHL’s Rochester Americans.

Mittelstadt was a star for the U.S. team at the world junior championship and had his NCAA season end over the weekend when Minnesota failed to qualify for the regionals.

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