NHL GMs will talk fighting

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

How much fight will general managers put up to change the rules on fighting when they gather under the Florida palm trees today?

Will this ancient argument dominate three days of meetings in Naples as many reformists hope, or be swept aside for a Neapolitan agenda that was in place before fisticuffs once more became a hot-button issue?

The death of Whitby Dunlops' Don Sanderson and a spate of fight-related injuries raised the topic again, causing a media feeding frenzy at mid-season and putting league officials on the defensive, to the point where senior exec Colin Campbell put the debate back on this week's program.

But a majority of the 30 GMs polled at the time were not in favour of taking it right out of the game. They and commissioner Gary Bettman have committed only to find ways of making the exercise safer, such as mandating that helmets be kept on.

While in Naples, the GMs will listen to in-house data on the history of fighting in the game and the ongoing opinions of its competition committee. What they do beyond that (the NHL board of governors still has final say on any of their resolutions) is anyone's guess.

It's interesting that Ken Holland of the Red Wings is in favour of a review of fighting, yet is also anxious to see his new tie-breaking proposal be heard. Holland would like to give a higher seed to the team with more regulation wins instead of overall victories, bound to put more onus on clubs to win inside 60 minutes.

Detroit and San Jose are neck and neck atop the Western Conference right now and there's a chance of a three way knot with Boston for the President's Trophy in April. New Jersey and the Rangers currently lead the NHL with 13 and 12 overtime wins, respectively.

The GMs also have had a few months to consider an idea from Larry Pleau of the St. Louis Blues, requiring teams with a delayed penalty against them to not just touch the puck to stop play, but clear their zone.

A move to take fighting off centre stage could be forced by influential GMs such as Brian Burke, in his first appearance at these meetings as head of the Maple Leafs. Burke always carries a big stick at these gatherings and not only is he a traditionalist about fighting, he is anxious to push a couple of his own pet projects, such as allowing teams to retain salary in trades to free up more action at the deadline and reducing penalties in overtime to one minute.

Ways to juice scoring and more tinkering with the all-star game are also going to arise. With these meetings now coming after the trade deadline, there should be ample time to get into all the aforementioned topics. But some past meetings have had potential for lengthy discussions, only to dissolve into early tee-off times or to catch the first plane home.

Around the league

Canucks' general manager Mike Gillis wasn't apologizing for leaving $2.7 million US in cap space on the table at the deadline, refusing to spend it in what could be a Cup run after turning down the expensive package for Panthers' defenceman Jay Bouwmeester. "If we can't improve our team, why would we just spend money?" Gillis said. "We made every attempt to do what we could do to improve the team. I think most fans who are logical thinkers, who are true Canuck fans, see just to spend money because we have it is not the best business model. I was completely prepared to spend every cent if the right deal was there." ... Scott Gordon, whose Islanders visit the Leafs tomorrow, was the subject of a Newsday story where unnamed veterans said the coach had alienated them in favour of youngsters. If so, it's a complete turnaround from Ted Nolan getting fired in part because he ignored the kids. Gordon would only comment that the anonymous critics were part of discontent that's on every losing team ... Time will tell if the Atlanta Thrashers get better, but they did get younger at the deadline. The oldest defencemen on the team are now 27 and only six players have 1970s birth certificates ... The Ducks were thrilled to get Boston University prospect Nick Bonino in a trade with San Jose. Bonino is a centre and a penalty killing teammate of free agent defenceman Matt Gilroy, whom almost every team in the league with cap room, the Leafs in particular, are eyeing this summer.

The week ahead

Islanders defenceman Brendan Witt is eligible to return from a five-game suspension for elbowing Toronto's Niklas Hagman, in time for tomorrow's game against the Leafs. Hagman remains out with a concussion ... It's GM Darryl Sutter vs. coach Brent Sutter tomorrow when Calgary visits New Jersey ... The Rangers will have their playoff mettle tested in a home and home with the Flyers next weekend.


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