GMs tout widening hashmarks, more scoring

The NHL's GM winter meetings are taking place, and one of the first shockers to come out of Florida is that 3-on-3 overtime is not looked upon favourably to replace the shootout, or at least minimize their likelihood to determine games.

BOCA RATON, Fla. — We recall the GMs meetings one year ago that began on the Monday after the Saturday on which Matt Cooke had nearly separated Marc Savard from everything north of his shoulder blades. The National Hockey League’s general managers meetings were focused that year, and Rule 48 would be the outcome not long after.

So it is likely a compliment to this group that there are no fires burning brightly anymore. The Department of Player Safety routinely suspended another player — Jordan Nolan, for one game — while on site here, and the hockey world has united around the fact that head shots mean games missed. Period.

But what about the hashmarks? And TV timeouts? Dry scrapes?

All you need to know about Day 1 at the GM meetings, in our daily notebook, as the GMs split into three groups to discuss various issues:

• Here’s one we didn’t see coming: St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong was touting moving the hashmarks further apart — from three feet in the NHL to the Olympic-sized five feet — to minimize obstruction off a faceoff.

“Lots of support for that in our (break out) group,” Detroit GM Ken Holland said. “Less obstruction, less interference off the draws. Probably would lead to less centre icemen getting kicked out … because of the jostling around.”

Who knew that was a problem?

• The concept of utilizing 3-on-3 hockey in overtime took a major hit here. It seems Holland’s baby just isn’t going to fly.

“It was tough enough getting four-on-four,” said Rangers GM Glen Sather. “Three-on-three is a bit of a pipe dream, in my opinion.”

Here’s a thought: some people don’t like the shootout because it’s a bit of a gimmick, right? Well, we see plenty of penalty shots these days, and there is a clear-cut breakaway every other night in the NHL.

I ask you, how often do you see three-on-three hockey being played? Perhaps three-on-three is more of a gimmick than the shootout.

NHL polling shows them that 80 per cent of fans love the shootout. It’s not going anywhere.

• In a league where scoring is flat, and coaches seemingly spend more time teaching players how to stop goals than how to score them, tell me again why they don’t allow almost any puck that ricochets in off a skate to stand as a goal?

Sure, there is a safety issue. But when is the last time you saw a player actually kicking at a loose puck near the goal line, in an attempt to hoof it into the net?

“I think there was a little bit more discussion about that,” said Edmonton GM Craig MacTavish. “We’re getting a much broader leeway in terms of what we’re allowing, in terms of goals that are deflected. Distinct kicking motion is pretty tough to determine, and we’re all feeling that way. So our group anyway would like a little bit more liberal definition of allowing more goals.”

Basically, err on the side of a good goal. When it’s not, it’s pretty easy to tell.

• These GMs always talk about unintended consequences to rules changes that have been made. One is a big, tough rookie Luke Gazdic in Edmonton. Under the new rules forcing rookies to wear visors, the Oilers heavyweight is forced to have a shield on, despite his penchant for fighting. And if he takes it off, that’s a two-minute minor.

Another is goaltender interference, in a day and age when teams “collapse to the net” all the time.

“I don’t think it’s an epidemic,” Calgary GM Brian Burke said. “It’s a culmination of a lot of things: teams dropping five guys down, defending home plate, and then the offensive group has to match that. So you have more scrums in front of the net.”

Trying to discern whether a goaltender has indeed been bumped is getting harder and harder. “Some goalies are pretty good at embellishing hits,” Sather said. “You can skate by a guy and a slight breeze will knock him over. It looks like he has been hit by a cannonball.”

This is the one penalty call on which many feel the referee should be consulted. Unlike whether or not a puck entered the net, which is easily discerned by Toronto, the feeling for the game that an on-ice official could provide might be able to cut down on those erroneous goaltender interference calls that can negate a good goal.

“It’s a pretty dicey topic when you start talking about goaltenders. They need to be protected,” Sather said. “If you’ve got a forward standing in front of the net and a goalie gets bumped by a player on the opposite side, the player will fall on him to make it look like he has been pushed into him. On the other hand, it could be a real hit. That might be something you could review.”

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