SUN Hockey Pool

NHL scores at meetings

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

The National Hockey League's general managers didn't propose a single rule change yesterday.

But why would they? As a rule-making group, they are now out of business.

Instead, it was agreed that a new NHL body, a rules committee, will be formed within two or three weeks to relieve the GMs of the responsibility of making rules.

At least, it will relieve some GMs of that responsibility. The new committee will be composed of about a half-dozen GMs, plus a similar number of players. It will have a couple of referees and a similar number of coaches.

The committee, which is not unlike those which exist in the other major sports, should help the NHL achieve its stated aim of returning offence to the sport and making it more attractive to the fans.

For one thing, the mere size of the body streamlines the process. Getting 30 GMs to agree on a proposal can be an unwieldy and time-consuming process -- not as bad as it was when Brian Burke was a GM and could be counted upon to offer lengthy soliloquies on every issue -- but difficult nonetheless.

Furthermore, the committee will eliminate much of the bias that had affected previous decisions. "It was the best (yesterday) that it has ever been," NHL vice-president Colin Campbell said, "because they don't know what their teams are going to look like."

As a result, the GMs were able to evaluate potential rule changes with regard to their impact on hockey, rather than with regard to their impact upon their individual teams.

Even with the competition committee in place, the GMs will have an important function in the development of the game -- a function that they exhibited yesterday.

They studied the new nets and goalie pads. They talked with the players in attendance, especially the goalies, about the impact of the new equipment. They discussed a number of other key concepts that must be examined if the game is to progress: The tagup rule; shootouts; no-touch icing; removal of the red line as a factor in offside passes; moving the nets two feet closer to the end boards; and a number of other issues.

In some cases, there was solid agreement. The tagup rule, for example, is certain to be a part of the NHL game when it returns. Likewise the relocated nets. On the other hand, the new goal frames, while interesting to look at, will not be appearing at an arena in your neighbourhood in the foreseeable future.

On other issues, opinions varied, but the talks increased the GMs' understanding of the situation. For instance, in a discussion of removing the red line, it was suggested that an experiment be tried in the American Hockey League.

But Colorado Avalanche defenceman Rob Blake pointed out that players who can best utilize the absence of the red line aren't likely to be found in the AHL. The ability to make long, sharp accurate passes in an attribute found almost exclusively in the NHL.

The general managers will continue to hold their meetings and continue to debate potential rule changes. But in the future, they will then make recommendations to the rules committee, which will also hear from the NHL Players' Association and other interested parties before preparing a proposal which will be sent to the board of governors for approval -- traditionally a rubber stamp.

For the first time, the NHL intends to have its rules made by people whose primary concern is the improvement of the game, not by general managers whose concern for the game has taken second place to concern for their employment.

The NHL is genuinely serious about revamping its game, and the creation of the competition committee is a crucial first step.


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