NHL GMs all talk, no action

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:05 AM ET

Like most general managers, John Ferguson evaluates any potential change by applying a strict formula. The more it helps his team, the more he's in favour of it.

In this case, though, Ferguson's goal coincides with the wishes of most local fans. He'd like to see a reduction in the number of divisional games.

Ferguson spoke to that and some other issues yesterday -- including a similarly meritorious change in the playoff format -- but the National Hockey League's general managers, who were meeting at an airport hotel yesterday, decided instead to maintain the status quo.

It was clear that not all of them took this meeting terribly seriously. Some started sprinting for planes 90 minutes before the meeting ended. And a whole string of them, from places like Washington, Florida, Atlanta, Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis, went rushing past the waiting TV cameras without stopping to comment.

This is perfectly understandable, of course, since hockey has far more popularity than it can handle in those markets.

In fact, no fewer than nine GMs dashed past the media before John Muckler of the Ottawa Senators took the time to make a comment.

Ferguson, whose team plays in one of the toughest divisions, made no secret of the fact that he wants to see fewer than eight games a season against each divisional opponent.

"There's a competitive imbalance with 15 teams fighting for eight playoff spots and you're playing each division so heavily," he said. "It's skewed. You look at our record last year against Buffalo and Ottawa. We played them 16 times. I think we won two or three. We finished the season eight games over (.500) and two points out of the playoffs.

"Against all the other teams we were 22 games over .500."

But popular sentiment, at least in the Toronto area, is also on Ferguson's side.

"The feedback overall," he said, "is that fans, as much as they like what they've seen, there's also an interest in seeing every team once."

If that's to happen, the number of divisional games would have to be reduced. But to approve such a change would require two-thirds approval and that was not forthcoming. Still, Ferguson isn't about to give up the fight.

"I'm not convinced we've heard the last of it," he said. "I know this particular schedule had originally been intended to go three years, I'm not convinced it won't at this point, but ... there has been enough sentiment expressed that there may be some reason to change."

Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey didn't share Ferguson's view. "We're really just beginning the second year of what's set up as a three-year cycle," he said. "I think I would prefer to see how it unfolds over a longer time period, and if there's really drastic inequities one way or another, then that can be looked at with a little more background and little more evidence."

However, a change in the playoff format may be forthcoming. Again, no resolutions were passed but some interesting concepts were discussed.

One had to do with re-seeding after the first round. At the moment, each divisional leader is ranked in the top three, even if lower-ranked teams in other divisions have fewer points.

A number of GMs feel that while they can accept a first-place reward that guarantees a high first-round seeding, subsequent seedings should be based on points.

But some GMs support a different seeding altogether.

"There was also a discussion of potential bracketing, straight bracketing, where there's no re-seeding at all," Ferguson said. "You have some predictability of outcome.

"You could have the potential of two upset winners playing against each other in the second round, but what TV gets is predictability. Teams can pre-scout. You know exactly who the next opponent is going to be. That was a point to ponder."

But ponder was all the GMs did yesterday.


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