November 15, 2011
The biggest news to come out of Tuesday's NHL general managers meeting concerned the hottest topic: Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic's collision with Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller(notes) on Saturday night, and league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan's(notes) decision to sentence him time served -- two minutes for charging.
About two-thirds of the GMs leaned toward supplemental discipline for such incidents, according to NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell. Sabres GM Darcy Regier left with the impression it would be called differently in the future.
"Based on our conversations in the room, I personally believe it would be," Regier said.
Shanahan stopped short of saying he would have suspended Lucic had the GMs given him this direction before. But he reiterated that he doesn't make policy, he enforces it, and he said there is "certainly a very heightened sensitivity" when it comes to protecting goaltenders.
"Certainly they're not fair game," said Shanahan, the NHL's senior vice president of player safety and hockey ops. "I think that players have to understand that. The general managers expressed to me the importance of all the players on the ice but also the extreme importance of the goaltender in that position.
"As a message to the players around the league, if anybody does think that it's a tactic and a tactic that is a smart gamble on their part, it won't be."
Lucic was racing for a puck in hopes of a breakaway. Miller rushed out of the crease and got to the puck first. Lucic ran right into him and received only a two-minute charging penalty, while Miller suffered a concussion.
Shanahan said Lucic should have made more of an effort to get out of the way, but he felt the hit was not worthy of a suspension because Lucic didn't veer into Miller, didn't raise a forearm or an elbow, and didn't hit him in the head.
"I'm confident the right steps will be taken moving forward," Regier said. "It's not just my feelings; it's the feelings of my counterparts. When you look at the position of goaltending — they were never taught how to check, they were never taught how to take a check, they're not equipped to do either. …
"You've got 360 forwards in the league, you've got 180 defensemen and you have 60 goaltenders of which on any given night only 30 are playing. It's significant that we take this seriously."
• The GMs discussed the Philadelphia Flyers' refusal to advance the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning's 1-3-1 system last week. The consensus was that this has happened only once in all the games played since the 2004-05 lockout, after which the league made major rule changes, and there is no need to legislate unless this becomes a regular problem.
"There's no real way to mandate how a team plays," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said. "Speaking from the Philadelphia Flyers' standpoint, I'd like to see us attack the situation a little bit differently than we did last game. But we'll continue to monitor and see if it becomes an issue."
• The GMs are taking a hard look at introducing hybrid icing, in which a linesman would determine who would win the race for the puck when the players reach the faceoff dot. The theory is that it preserves the excitement of the race, but eliminates collisions that could cause catastrophic injury.
Shanahan said the GMs watched a video that included some examples of hybrid icing. Campbell said they would talk about the issue at their March meeting and possibly vote on a rule-change proposal.
• Concussions are down 50-60 percent from where they were at this point last season. Cautioning that it was early, Shanahan called that a "significant improvement" and an indication that players were changing their behavior with new rules and a new approach to enforcement.
Shanahan said he sought clarification from the GMs on other types of collisions so they could clarify how they want them addressed.
"I tried to take the general managers through sort of the process of a suspension -- what gets applied, how it gets applied, when it gets applied," Shanahan said. "This isn't the time of year for significant rule changes or policy changes. I think it was more of a discussion on the sensitivities of the job that I do and certainly the recognition that it's not black and white. It's gray."
The GMs also saw some prototypes of new softer shoulder pads.
• The juiciest issue -- realignment -- wasn't even discussed. Commissioner Gary Bettman gave the GMs an update on all the options on the table, but there were many options and no questions. The issue is supposed to be decided at the board of governors meeting Dec. 4-5 in Pebble Beach , Calif., but it is now uncertain whether it will be.
The issue is complex, and every team is fighting for its own interest. The future of the Phoenix Coyotes also still hasn't been determined. At least two potential owners are bidding for the team, which is owned by the league.
"We're still going through the process," Coyotes GM Don Maloney said. "We remain cautiously optimistic things will work out."