Changing the rules

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

DETROIT -- Reserve your copy of the 2005-06 National Hockey League rulebook now.

It's a sure collector's item, either as a revolutionary blueprint for the game, or destined for The Canadian Museum of Hockey Curiosities, right beside those bloated goal nets and glowing pucks.

The book's first draft could be penned this week when 30 National Hockey League general managers gather near Detroit airport. Their debate on how best to streamline the game's tangle of on-ice issues and win back fans in the process will be monitored by commissioner Gary Bettman, while observers include league hockey operations bosses, Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow and a guest panel of players.

The league met a select group of goaltenders yesterday to get a head start on some contentious issues and there is a slight chance there will be a collective bargaining component to the whole gathering with Bettman and Goodenow in the house.

But the big show will belong to hockey ops and the GMs, who will compare notes on a full season of experiments in the American Hockey League, as well as some newer, more radical concepts.

"The game is going to change somewhat anyway with a new CBA coming in, so the key will be keeping an open mind," said St. Louis Blues GM Larry Pleau. "I'm probably too much of a traditionalist to want to change things, but let's see where we get to as a group."

TRADITIONALIST

Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson is one of the youngest executives at the meeting, but is not committed to a total overhaul of the sport. His father John Sr. played in the league's Original Six golden days.

"Let's not beat up the game," Ferguson Jr. urged in a recent TV roundtable on The Score. "I think fans who watched the Toronto-Ottawa playoff series last year left feeling they got their money's worth."

Among those teams at the forefront of change are the Buffalo Sabres, who are counting on a revitalized game to woo back disgruntled fans in their small market. The Sabres even put blue ice and orange lines in at HSBC Arena (designed to be HDTV friendly) and invited their farm team in Rochester to play two AHL games. They've also had the wider nets on display at HSBC.

"Some day soon, the players will be our partners and we've got to get this game juiced up so people will come out," managing partner Larry Quinn said.

But the best bets for approval this week by the GMs, who will recommend their preferred rule changes to the board of governors, will be those used by the AHL all season. They include tag-up offsides to keep on-ice flow, fat bluelines to increase neutral zone ice passes, a limit on goaltender meanderings from the net to encourage forechecking, no-touch icing to prevent injuries and shootouts to end overtime.

Ferguson likes the shootouts, but noted that during a recent Toronto-Syracuse game that three sets of five shooters per team were needed before the Baby Leafs won.

"By the time you get to the 29th shooter, it might get boring, but you take the good with the bad," he said.


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