DETROIT -- If a salary cap could be settled as amicably as the National Hockey League and its top players dealt with goaltending equipment yesterday, the locks would soon be off arena doors.
General managers, goaltenders, skaters, referees and high-ranking executives for the league and the union found the elusive common ground after a six-hour meeting, with consensus on curbing over-sized gear to help hungry shooters and goal-starved fans. All that's needed now is to have it written in to a collective bargaining agreement, which remains the hardest part. The 30 GMs will conclude three days of meetings this afternoon with a update from commissioner Gary Bettman on the labour talks.
A wide range of other proposed rule changes were covered yesterday, but nothing such as shootouts, no-touch icing or removal of the centre ice line will be fowarded to the board of governors just yet. Three versions of enlarged nets, by 13%, 17% and 21% space were presented by proponent Darcy Regier of the Buffalo Sabres, but seemed to get a lukewarm reception.
In a seven-month CBA war, this gathering was a significant truce, especially with NHL goalies thought to be the most resistant to change. Thanks to the presence of Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils and Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars, both grateful to be asked for their input, the change to smaller equipment seemed to go down easier.
"We have to understand that we're are part of the puzzle to make this game better," said Brodeur, one of seven senior players invited yesterday. "It will always be hard to put a rule in if those who play the game aren't involved."
Brodeur and Turco voiced concerns about safety, particularly in the knee area that will now be more exposed by a 10-inch, no-flap pad in a butterfly stance. But they conceded that massive gloves and extra large sweaters -- one GM compared them to living room drapes -- are to be discarded.
"It just got out of hand with certain goalies," Brodeur said. "We're trying to get everybody on the same playing field, knowing the guys competing (against) you are doing nothing more."
The goalies even pointed out other ways equipment could be streamlined, but they refused to bend on such bread-and-butter issues as restricted handling of the puck, one of several American Hockey League experiments that were expected to get more support yesterday. And having watched his farm team in St. John's, Toronto's GM John Ferguson is puzzled why AHL scoring has only risen from 5.11 per game to 5.34 so far this year, with all the new goal-friendly rules.
NHL hockey operations boss Colin Campbell found some dissent regarding removal of the red line, despite a 30-0 vote in favour last winter. Meanwhile, Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman bucked a growing trend to shootouts.
"It's entertaining no doubt," he said. "But I've watched a lot of European soccer and the World Cup and it doesn't seem right to me that games end in a shootout. You play the game, you figure out a way to score the winning goal."