Meeting of the minds

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

Having opened up the game last season, National Hockey League general managers meet this week in Toronto to try and expand their horizons.

After many individual GMs carped about the division rivalry schedules (Vancouver's Dave Nonis being the loudest critic of Eastern teams' cushy travel) the 30 execs will see if they can figure something new for the board of governors to examine later this year. Commissioner Gary Bettman has begun to reverse field on an earlier edict that the present system, introduced last season, would run its three-year course.

There are unofficial proposals to drop anywhere from one to two games from the current eight matches between division opponents, using the extra games to satisfy cities who want more visits from both the exciting young guns in the game or teams from the Original Six.

But there also are clubs anxious to see the schedule remain status quo. New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello had urged the current format in the first place, in part because New York-area teams can now bus it to 16 of 41 road stops, while the Predators and Red Wings have done well on a steady diet of lower echelon St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks.

A report on the weekend suggested Carolina Hurricanes' Jim Rutherford would introduce the idea of an all conference schedule similar to old American and National League baseball. Rutherford has clarified that to say he only favours more conference games and would not make a formal proposal this week.

Teams are also expected to take another look at rule changes this week, such as the unpopular delay of game call for clearing a puck into the stands. Statistics on scoring and its relation to power plays also will be reviewed.

TRADE WINDS COLD IN PHILLY

Of course, any gathering of GMs this close to American Thanksgiving, the unofficial opening of serious trade season, is bound to lay the groundwork for deals.

The Tampa Bay Lightning was looking for something to shake them out of last place in the Southeast, but with less than half a million dollars to work with under the salary cap, Jay Feaster has to be creative. The Sharks, with two top flight goalies, are going to get a lot of attention, too.

But the Philadelphia Flyers, mired in their worst start in club history, need a huge win against the Leafs tonight to keep chairman Ed Snider's finger off the destruct button.

An October roster shake up, followed by the ousting of general manager Bob Clarke and coach Ken Hitchcock has resulted in just two wins. A turnaround is vital before the end of this week when the Flyers play Buffalo, Pittsburgh and then embark on a three-game California trip.

For a time at Wachovia Center on Saturday night, it seemed upheaval was in the cards. As the Washington Capitals built a 4-1 lead, Snider stormed out of his box. Soon after, the phone rang in interim GM Paul Holmgren's perch, summoning him to a meeting and after the 5-3 loss, coach John Stevens' post-game media conference was delayed while he, Holmgren and Snider went into a huddle.

Stevens refused to say afterward what took place.

Peter Forsberg, who had refused to speak to the media last week, prompting calls to relinquish his captaincy, admitted Saturday "we're not playing good enough to get the crowd into it, not playing good enough to make them cheer. I would be the same way. We're not playing fun hockey to watch. It's not like we don't know we're brutal. We're not playing hard enough, we're losing battles, we're losing to everybody. I totally understand."

After Colin Campbell refused the GM's job that Snider offered, both ex-Flyers captain Dave Poulin and former New York Rangers/Islanders' GM Neil Smith were at Wachovia scouting for the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars, respectively.

Poulin, assistant athletic director at Notre Dame, had a long chat with Holmgren, while Smith's presence in town through part of the five-game homestand led to reasonable guessing that he'd talked to Snider. Ron Hextall is also in the running.

ICE CHIPS

Los Angeles Kings' fans have been chanting 'Gar-ron' the past few games, hoping coach Marc Crawford would take the hint and replace Dan Cloutier, whose goals-against average of 3.48 was almost double that of Mathieu Garon. Crawford started Garon on Saturday against Phoenix, but lifted him for Cloutier after five Coyotes' goals ... The Kings sent Mississauga Ice Dogs' grad Patrick O'Sullivan to Manchester of the AHL ... B.C. native Joe Sakic now has 88 points in 67 career games against the Canucks, his highest total against an opponent and the most the Canucks have allowed to one player.

THE WEEK AHEAD

The Ottawa Senators had better bring their 'A' checking game on the road with week with games in Washington (Alexander Ovechkin), Atlanta (Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa) and Pittsburgh (Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby).


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