NHL GMs thinking outside the box to improve hockey’s future

David Amber, Nick Kypreos and Chris Johnston discuss all the happenings from the GM meetings in Florida.

• Moving faceoff circles considered
• Changing the points system
• Other outside-the-box ideas looked at

BOCA RATON, Fla. – There was a time when an NHL general manager would get thrown out of a meeting of his peers for suggesting the possibility of eliminating the blue lines or creating a rule where goalies aren’t allowed to freeze the puck.

No more.

A gathering of the 31 league GMs – yes, George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights now have a place at the table – began here Monday with an interesting thought experiment: Where is the game heading in five years, 10 years or even beyond? What might the sport look like?

The GMs were split into four groups and asked to kick that around. Rather than focusing entirely of the issues of here and now, they spent three hours reimagining the hockey landscape.

“I think it’s (research and development),” said Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving. “Every company you look at does R&D. To grow and to expand and to get your mind – we try to do it in our offices, ‘OK, let’s talk about ideas’ – when you start putting constraints on everything you don’t become very creative.”

In many ways, it was an extension of the R&D camps Brendan Shanahan started during his time working for the NHL. Commissioner Gary Bettman initiated this exercise back in November and a few GMs clearly embraced the task.

Here’s a look at some of the things they discussed:

Changing Faceoff Circles

Instead of having two faceoff dots in the corner of each offensive zone, why not place one in the middle like the neutral zone?

“One of our comments is a lot of times the puck’s won and now it’s all of a sudden a board battle,” said Treliving. “But if you put one faceoff circle right in the middle of each end zone – you’re right in front of the net. The puck’s being dropped there and how your faceoff alignment (works), we spent a lot of time on it.

“I thought it was a really cool idea.”

They even discussed having the faceoff circle become more of a faceoff rectangle to make ensure players are more spread out.

His group included Stan Bowman, Joe Sakic, Ken Holland, Ray Shero, Ron Hextall, Jim Rutherford and Kevin Cheveldayoff. Did any of the traditionalists take issue with the idea?

“Oh yeah, we all said that,” said Treliving. “And then we said ‘OK, no, this is the exercise, to do it.’ I thought it was a real neat idea.”

The Points System

We live in an age of parity in the NHL and a lot of that has to do with the point teams get for losing in overtime or the shootout. But the system isn’t to the liking of everyone.

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello would prefer to see things turned back to the way they once were.

“I’d rather see the game just be two (for a win) and zero (for a loss), or end up in a tie one and one,” he said. “I don’t like the three-point games, no. I don’t like them. I still would not have a problem with it if it ended in a tie. I’ll take the one and one and then the two for the win. That would be my first personal preference, the way it was years ago, because you will really play to win that game.”

The Treliving group kicked that idea around, too.

“The standings are tight,” he said. “The whole idea behind it is that with five minutes to go in the third period, is the game better because we’re chasing another point or is it going to make that much difference?”

They also contemplated a different playoff format.

“We also looked at a wild-card play-in game,” said Treliving. “So it was an interesting discussion. Let’s throw some stuff up there and it gets the mind going.”

Rule Changes

Part of the exercise saw GMs review tape of old games to be reminded about how different it looks today from the past. As Tim Murray of the Buffalo Sabres pointed out, hockey once outlawed the forward pass.

That got some to thinking about other fundamental changes that could bring about more offence.

“What would it be like without dump-ins or what kind of rule changes might affect the game in-zone like blocked shots?” said New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton. “It’s those type of things.”

Over time, the group has warmed to an idea that was first suggested by former Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey back in 2008 – making it illegal to leave your feet and block a shot.

“That was mentioned a long time ago by Bob Gainey,” said New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero. “Everybody thought he was crazy. But that’s what you try to do – look 15, 20 years ahead. What is good for the game? The quality of the game is most important.”

The Treliving group came up with a number of ways to promote scoring by limiting what a team can do defensively.

“We looked at everything from congestion around the net, forcing people to forecheck, being more proactive versus a chess match, creating more chaos on the ice,” said Treliving. “We talked about shot-blocking, we chatted about whether it would help if you made the zone bigger? So all sorts of different things. …

“We always talk about creating rules to create offence, and then we give it to our coaches and 10 minutes later they’ve figured out a way to kill that idea. But if we find a way to limit defence – instead of giving them tools for the toolbox, take a few out.”

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