ROMULUS, Mich. Even with NHL ice empty for nearly seven months, general managers and players are trying to find better ways to fill the net.
Thirty GMs and selected players met for more than six hours at a suburban Detroit hotel Thursday, discussing possible rules changes designed to add more scoring punch to an increasingly defensive-oriented game that has been halted by labor strife.
''We do feel that part of the reason we're not playing is that the game needs to be more entertaining,'' Detroit Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan said.
Changes could include cutting down the size of goaltending equipment, limiting the goalie's ability to play the puck behind the net, widening the blue lines and instituting shootouts to eliminate tie games.
While no decisions were made or recommendations adopted Thursday, many who left the meeting said they felt good about what was discussed.
''We think the game has been great for many years, but we want to increase offensive opportunities,'' Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe said. ''The good thing today is that unanimously the mandate is offense and scoring chances.''
Many in the league see the changes as a necessity, given the lack of scoring before the NHL became the first major sports league in North America to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.
Lowe's Edmonton Oilers had 400 or more goals per season five times during the 1980s, a decade of fast-break hockey. In 2003-04, the Ottawa Senators led the league with 262 goals, and 11 teams failed to break the 200 mark.
There is some belief that the resulting damage from the lost season could be irreversible for hockey.
''We want to come back with a great game,'' Colorado Avalanche defenseman Rob Blake said. ''That's common among GMs and players alike.''
The GMs can only suggest rules changes. All ideas would need to be approved by the NHL's board of governors. Other suggestions also would have to be approved by the players' association, particularly changes that would reduce the size of goalie equipment.
''We had about 20 topics. We got to five or six,'' Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. ''With a six-hour session, you're not going to come out with a whole bunch of rule changes.''
Holland did say that the idea of decreasing the size of goalie equipment was close to a consensus. NHL consultant Kris King said the proposed equipment would mean 12- to 14-percent less blocking area.
One subject expected to come up on Thursday expanding the size of the nets wasn't discussed. But three prototype goals were set up in the meeting room to give the participants an idea of what might be considered.
Both Blake and New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur described implementation of the larger nets as a ''last resort.''
''Oh, it's really big,'' a wide-eyed Brodeur said referring to the nets. ''I think it would be bad for the game of hockey to change the size of the nets.''
One of the new designs offered by the Buffalo Sabres features outwardly curving posts and an upwardly curving crossbar. It expands the opening of the standard 6-by-4-foot net by about 13 percent.
The other two designs are proposed by the league one that is similar to the Sabres' model and another that simply increases the size of the current rectangular nets.
The NHL is expected to provide the GMs with an overview of the labor issues when the two-day get-together resumes Friday morning. Among the attendees Thursday were NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow and union president Trevor Linden.
''It's not the time to make recommendations. The board of governors aren't ready to see recommendations,'' NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell said. ''They've got other, more important issues to deal with.''
Campbell said the league should form a competition committee made up of GMs, coaches, players and referees. Florida Panthers GM Mike Keenan said he expected commissioner Gary Bettman who was in attendance Thursday in Romulus to set up such a committee.
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