Changes abound at GM meetings

Posted: Wednesday, February 11, 2004

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) Hoping to increase scoring in the NHL, general managers proposed Tuesday that goaltenders wear smaller pads and not be allowed to handle the puck behind the goal line.

The general managers agreed to the suggestions during a five-hour collective meeting that pre-empted a planned golf outing at a resort near the Las Vegas Strip.

''We're attempting to restrike the balance between offense and defense,'' NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said after the marathon session that also included three members of the players' association.

Goaltenders will be the most affected as the width of their pads would be reduced from 12 inches to 10 inches where they were before 1989 and they would no longer be able to go behind the goal line to play the puck.

''I think the goaltenders now are so good at puck-handling, it's difficult to get in and forecheck,'' said Detroit GM Ken Holland, a former NHL goalie. ''They've perfected the position.''

Bettman came with a mandate to GMs to produce a better product, and the group put in long hours during the first two days of the three-day meeting to achieve that goal.

Scoring has dropped by 2 1/2 goals per game in the last 15 years to an average of five per game.

''We now have to go back and take the package and flush it out, make sure we haven't omitted anything or need to clarify something,'' Bettman said. ''Then we have to blend it all together and make sure that it all fits together neatly and there are no inconsistencies.''

New Jersey's Martin Brodeur said he had no problem with thinner pads, but he and Dallas' Marty Turco have virtually become third defensemen because of their ability to play pucks that are dumped in behind the nets.

''With the equipment, whatever they want to do is fine with me. But preventing somebody's talent and somebody's reaction, I'm not hurting anybody,'' Brodeur said after a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. ''I'm not setting a bad example for kids by playing the puck behind the (goal) line, so I don't know if this is something I should be penalized for.

''But the league is at a state right now that it looks like they don't know what they're doing and they're just looking for ways to try to improve the game. Coming from people that know hockey, it's amazing that they're about to come out with these things.''

Not everyone agrees with Brodeur.

''I think the couple of changes that we made will really make a difference in how the game is played,'' Islanders general manager Mike Milbury said.

The group came up with several adjustments that could become rules once they are discussed by a panel of hockey experts put together by Bettman and voted on by the board of governors this summer.

Most couldn't remember a time when suggested changes weren't supported by the board.

If the proposals are approved, the group will have transformed the face of game. And most of the changes would take effect by next season unless a work stoppage occurs after the collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15.

The nets would be moved back 3 feet toward the end boards to 10 feet. In doing so, the blue lines also move in 3 feet to keep the distance the same between the blue line and the goal, and increase the neutral zones to 60 feet from 54.

Before the 1990-91 season, the goal was moved to 11 feet and then to 13 eight years later.

Also back is the tag-up offsides rule, which will increase the flow of the game and lead to fewer whistles. The thought is it will also create scoring chances because offensive players will be able to change while defensive players will be kept on the ice and in their zone longer.

The GMs also will ask the AHL to experiment with a new system that will give three points for a regulation victory, two for an overtime victory, and one for an overtime loss.

A bigger aspect to this change is the introduction of a game-deciding shootout. A shootout winner will also get two points, while the losing team gets one. Tie games would be eliminated.

That and expanding the width of the blue and red lines would be tried for a year in the AHL before being reconsidered by the NHL.

''The consensus is we have a really good game and for some reason in our sport there is a lot more analysis or critics of our game which I don't think is completely fair,'' Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said. ''Making some changes and tweaking the game as we go along makes sense.''

The general managers plan to meet again within the next two months for further discussion and then they will pass their recommendations over to the panel, expected to be convened in July, Bettman said.

''Now it's up to the group that Gary's putting together to see if it'll go any further,'' Capitals GM George McPhee said.

Two other rules interpretations are expected to go into effect in the next few days.

If a puck should go in while the net is wiggling on its moorings, the goal will now stand.

Also, if a player is streaking toward a loose puck and headed for a breakaway, a penalty shot may be awarded if the player is dragged down before he is in possession of the puck. In the past, he would have to have already acquired it.

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