The NHL general managers will meet for their first and only in-season meeting on Wednesday, gathering for just six hours in a one-day session to discuss some possible changes to the rule book as well as well the new CBA that was agreed upon prior to the start of the season.
As always in these meetings, the general managers will discuss a number of issues that will likely never actually make it further than the meeting itself. The meetings are a chance for general managers to float potential rule changes or changes to the game itself and while most don't see the light of day, there's always a chance a major change occurs as a result of these discussions.
The New York Times has a rundown of this year's agenda, which features some very interesting discussion points that could lead to some very real changes moving forward.
The shootout & overtime
Since being implemented following the lockout in 2005, the shootout has increasingly become less of an exciting way to end a hockey game and more of an anticlimactic skills competition after what had supposedly been a very good hockey game. Part of the issue with the shootout (aside from games being decided by not actually playing hockey) is the point system the NHL adopted along with it, as teams increasingly seem content to play it safe for overtime.
The shootout itself has also lost it's shiny luster, with eight years now of fancy shootout attempts becoming less special over time.
With more than half of tie games heading to the shootout this season and last, the general managers will discuss possible changes to the overtime format. Some have suggested a longer overtime, with possibly a three-on-three period of play following the now-traditional four-on-four format.
The NHL will likely never completely abandon the current format altogether, as the league probably doesn't want games to end in ties again. Trying to make overtime itself more exciting and likely to actually end the game, however, is certainly something the NHL should closely consider -- perhaps switching ends after the third period.
What has not been mentioned is a possible change to the points system, as most are pushing for a three-point format that puts more emphasis on actually winning the game in regulation or overtime, instead of playing it safe to the shootout.
The AHL experimented with hybrid icing during the lockout, which calls for linesmen to call the play dead if a defenseman is winning a puck race at the hash marks, in an experiment to see how the rule could affect the game itself and whether it actually results in safer play. Icing came under scrutiny the past few years as several players have severely injured in races for the pucks and the experimental rule in the AHL seemed to be met with a positive reaction by players and officials.
Could the NHL adopt this rule moving forward? The league has put an emphasis on player safety the past few seasons but has been hesitant to actually make changes to the flow of the game itself -- and there are opinions that taking away icing takes away from a competitive part of the game. You'd have to think that even the NHLPA would be on board with this one, as it's rare for an actual race on an icing call to be beaten out by the offensive player.
The visor issue came up once again after another brutal injury, this time with defenseman Marc Staal taking a puck to the eye on March 5. The NHLPA has stated once again that it does not feel the league should make visors mandatory for all players and that over 70 percent of players are already wearing them voluntarily.
Yet every league below the NHL already has a mandatory visor rule and it's incredible that the league has not set the example in this area. Players are decidedly old-school when it comes to decisions about their own health, however, as even Chris Pronger feels that the decision to wear a visor should be made by a player and not the league.
Teams have a very real interest in keeping their players (and financial investments) healthy and it's understandable that they'd like to do what they can to protect their players as best they can. This debate is very similar to the debate over mandatory helmet use back in the 1970s and likely could have the same outcome -- new players coming into the league would be required to wear visors while all other veteran players are "grandfathered" in and can make the decision themselves.
This rule can't pass without NHLPA approval, however, and that's going to be a tough sell.
This issue came up last month after Matt Duchene scored a goal after being about 10 feet offsides, and there's a chance a coach's challenge -- initially suggested by Ken Holland three years ago and subsequently rebuked -- would be seriously considered this time around. The actual implementation of such a challenge, as well as what could be challenged, is going to lead to some serious debate and could likely take a while to actually get off the ground.
There's also a chance that the GMs could discuss the very serious nature of embellishment around the NHL, as players are taking advantage of the league's crackdown on boarding to constantly draw calls on what used to be normal hits along the boards. Players are turning their backs into hits or flinging themselves into the boards to draw calls and it's working, as the officials are doing their best to follow the league edict to crack down on such transgressions.
How such a change comes about is uncertain, however. Does the league start to penalize embellishment more, and ask the referees to not only make a split second judgment call on whether a hit was legal or not but also whether the player being hit did his best to sell the call.
It's easy to see these things on replays but in real time it's tough to know if a player was legitimately hit into the boards or threw himself face-first into the glass to draw a call. Putting even more pressure on the officials to get things right could lead to even more borderline penalty calls.
Goalie and player equipment
The general managers will once again discuss possible changes to the allowed size of goaltender equipment in an attempt to boost scoring. There's a sentiment that the size of the pads the goalies wear are too big, take up too much space in the net and don't give enough room for shooters. This has been discussed ad nauseam the past ten years or so, with some suggesting that goalies should even be required to wear all black pads to give shooters a better target.
It will be interesting to see how this is addressed because it's obviously a concern for those wanting more and more offense. Yet there's also the fact that goaltenders are just plain better than they have ever been before, in better shape and better trained with better mechanics coming from a lifetime of coaching and drills. Cutting down on the size of pads could help, but I doubt it does much to the ability of a 6-4 Finnish netminder to stop the puck.