Around the League – Mar 11, 2010

The NHL GM meetings wrapped up yesterday, and to no one’s surprise they came up with a recommendation that will punish headshots — or at least some of them. Thankfully they found a way to word the rule so it won’t punish or deter players from making big, clean hits.

"A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and or the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."

This wording is great because it allows players going straight on towards another player to deliver a blow. I was concerned they would word it in a way that might deter players from delivering a hard check. I’m all for getting rid of cheap head shots, but I do think the puck carrier still has to keep his head up and hopefully the game never loses that element.

There are still some grey areas that need to be worked out. Is a blindside hit a two-minute penalty, a five-minute major or will it be one or the other accompanied with a game misconduct? These wrinkles will be ironed out over the summer, but expect this rule to be in place next season.

It is long overdue and the players clearly needed some guidelines.

A few other rule changes were tabled, and I don’t see why they won’t be approved by the competition committee and board of governors this summer.

  • The GMs want the first tiebreaker at season’s end to be changed to regulation and overtime wins, and not overall wins as is currently the case. Basically a team that is dominant in the shootouts, won’t win the tiebreaker.
  • The NHL wants the American Hockey League to go to a four-man officiating system in 40 per cent of AHL games. The AHL currently uses three-man system for all games. This is really the AHL’s decision but considering the NHL has agreed to financially back it, I don’t see why the AHL would balk at it.

There were a few other rule changes presented on Tuesday by various GMs that didn’t make it out of the boardroom.

The Islanders proposed that the top seven teams in each conference make the playoffs, while the eight through fifteen seeds would have a play-in tournament in each conference. This is idiotic. Basically the regular season would come down to a one-game do-or-die format. Why play 82 games? That was a horrible idea by the Islanders.

Once again some Einstein thought a tweak to the all-star game would make it better. Memo to the NHL or anyone who thinks the all-star can be meaningful, IT CAN’T, nor should it.

The all-star game is a meaningless, fun game, but someone actually proposed that the two leading scorers or leading scorers in each conference, at the all-star break, would draft their own teams. I’m not making this up. This was actually put on the table as a viable option.

I don’t understand why people expect the all-star game to be intense, when many regular season games aren’t that intense. The all-star game is a reward for the stars of the league. They get recognition for a good start to their season, they get to mingle with other stars of the league, and most importantly the big sponsors get to meet the stars of the game.

Nothing will ever make the all-star game meaningful, so can we please stop trying.

The other proposals at least had some validity to them.

Changing the overtime formula to four minutes of four-on-four and if no goal was scored then they would play three-on-three for four minutes. The NHL would like to see more games decided in overtime rather than in shootouts. The AJHL currently uses this formula and the three-on-three is highly entertaining. I think the NHL might re-visit this idea in the future.

The final proposal was a challenge flag. The NFL and NLL currently use a coach’s challenge flag, but I’m not sure how it would be effective in the NHL. Right now any questionable goal is reviewed, so what exactly would coaches challenge? Would they challenge missed offside calls, or questionable penalties?

I’m not sure the NHL needs a challenge flag. Do you? Would any of these rules changes make the game better?

The headshot issue needed to be addressed, but one rule that should be changed is touch-icing. I don’t see the benefits of having touch icing. Sure there are a few exciting races for the puck where the forechecker gets there first to avoid the icing call, but is it really that exciting? We’ve seen some horrendous injuries because of these races, and I don’t see the reward outweighing the risk.

I’d be all for getting rid of the instigator rule, but I don’t see that happening unfortunately.

Ice woman of the week

Meagan is a three-year veteran on the Dallas Stars Ice-Girls. She loves horseback riding, snowboarding and herding cattle in helicopters. I wonder if she herds the cows while wearing her goaltending equipment.

Random thoughts

  • Tonight the Windsor Spitfires host the Plymouth Whalers. Taylor Hall v. Tyler Seguin and Cam Fowler will also be on the ice. The Oilers, Bruins, Blue Jackets and Islanders will have three of four scouts/management types in attendance, and other teams will be there as well. If you are interested you can watch it at
  • Back in late January I wrote the Canucks needed to be at least .500 on their NHL-record 14 game road trip, they finished 8-5-1 after a shootout loss in Phoenix last night, if they wanted to win the NW. They did better than that, and now with ten of their final 15 games at home and a five point lead on Colorado it looks like they should get home ice in the first round. I still think Mike Gillis should have added more than Alberts and Stastny, but the Canucks are Canada’s best hope to win a Cup. It’s safe to say that won’t happen, and Lord Stanley will reside in the US for another season.
  • I loved hearing Vinny Lecavalier rip the league for not suspending Matt Cooke. “He’s been doing this his whole career, hurting guys. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew exactly he was going to hit his (Savard’s) head. He’s got no respect for players and they (NHL) are protecting the wrong guy.” Cooke is a gutless puke in my mind. But I think it is more a lack of fear than a lack of respect. If Cooke knew he’d have to fight a guy or risk being jumped he’d think twice before delivering another blatant cheap shot.
  • Looks like the Oiler curse doesn’t leave a player once he departs Edmonton. Denis Grebeshkov took a shot in nards, and needed surgery to supposedly remove one of them and is out a month. Steve Staios is -3 in three games with the Flames. Lubomir Visnovsky has two goals in three games with the Ducks, but they’ve lost all three and now the Ducks are seven points out of a playoff spot. Should the Oilers perform an exorcism of their dressing room at the end of year? I don’t think it can hurt.
  • Nothing like jumping the gun. Hockey Canada was in an uproar about losing Sidney Crosby’s glove and stick. It turns out the glove was in Patrice Bergeron’s bag, and the stick was packed in a truck and sent to Toronto. You’d think that asking other players to check their bags would have been the first thing to do, rather than offer a $10,000 reward and basically accuse someone of stealing the items.
  • So Sidney Crosby didn’t go on the David Letterman or the Today Show. Who cares? Do you really think having Crosby in that forum will boost hockey’s interest amongst Americans? Crosby would be better served to go on SNL and be funny or poke fun at himself. Getting interviewed by Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira would be a kin to Elisabeth Hasselbeck going on Off The Record. I doubt sports fans would all of a sudden tune into The View after seeing her. Crosby is not the most personable guy, so put him on SNL and maybe we’d see a lighter side of him. Non-hockey fans would be more enticed by that that seeing him with Letterman or Lauer.

Leaders through the season

Here are the top ten in pts, goals, assists and other stats.

Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby
41: Steven Stamkos
39: Patrick Marleau
35: Marian Gaborik
34: Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk
31: Alexander Semin, Anze Kopitar, Zach Parise, Jarome Iginla and Jeff Carter

62: Henrik Sedin (first week Thornton hasn’t lead since week two)
61: Joe Thornton
55: Martin St. Louis
54: Nicklas Backstrom and Brad Richards
50: Ovechkin and Paul Stastny
49: Patrick Kane and Mike Green
47: Ryan Getzlaf

88: H. Sedin
84: Crosby
80: Backstrom
79: St. Louis
78: Stamkos
77: Thornton
75: Patrick Kane
72: Brad Richards
70: Marian Gaborik

+37: Jeff Schultz
+32: Backstrom, H. Sedin and Daniel Sedin
+31: Mike Green
+30: Alex Burrows
+28: Christian Ehrhoff
+27: Alex Semin
+23: Jonathon Toews

***Patrick O’Sullivan has a big lead for the green jacket sitting at -32. Shawn Horcoff has dropped to -27, while Rod Brind’Amour is -24 and Steve Staios is -22. Staios is -3 in three games with the Flames***

PP Goals:
16: Heatley
13: Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Gaborik
12: Crosby
11: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Marleau, Ryan Kesler, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk

Ryan Callahan
256: Cal Clutterbuck
240: Dustin Brown
217: Stephane Robidas
207: Steve Ott and Brooks Orpik
197: Chris Neil
195: Matt Greene, Brendan Morrow and Mike Fisher

Ovechkin (22 shots this week)
278: Jeff Carter
274: Parise
240: Crosby
233: Phil Kessel
232: Marleau
231: Malkin
229: Henrik Zetterberg, Alex Semin and and Lecavalier

Quote of the week

I had Windsor head coach Bob Boughner and Plymouth bench boss Mike Vellucci on my show this week. Both had some interesting comments on Hall and Seguin.

Boughner on Hall’s best strength and what he is working on:

“I’ve had him since he was 15 and his best attribute is his skating. He is extremely hard to knock off the puck, and has NHL explosive speed right now. He has a wide wheel base which makes him hard to knock of the puck. And his hunger for the puck is immense. He’ll go into the dangerous areas, he’ll crash the net as hard as I’ve seen anybody and if it is a 50/50 battle for the puck he’ll come up with it.”

Boughner on how Hall is handling the pressure of being highly touted?

“He is a really confident kid who doesn’t get shaken easily and he loves being that go-to-guy and the guy to make a difference. In that regard he is handling it no problem. In the other way he has done some great things. He asked me if he can do his own community visits instead of doing team visits because it would mean more. He’s bought tickets out of his own pocket and he spends time going on hospital visits that we don’t even know about. He tries to give back in his own way and he doesn’t need or want the media there. He just likes giving back.”

Boughner on the concerns that Hall skates with his head down too much and he might get hurt in the NHL.

“I think that is overblown, but I can see why people would say that. He’s got a target on his back every night and teams are looking to finish him and they’re looking to put as much abuse on him as they can. Taylor’s one of those guys who doesn’t shy away from it. He does get hard some nights and I think its cause he isn’t afraid to go to the dangerous areas. Sometimes he does look down at the puck, but he’s gotten a lot better at it and just when you think you have him he gets low to the ice and duck around checks. I’ve seen him get hit hard, but he’s always got up and went right back at it and he isn’t easily intimidated.”

What do you like about Seguin’s game?

“He’s a great player. I had him at the U-18 this summer for team Canada. He’s more of a puck distributor, while Taylor is more dominant at fishing loosing pucks and going to the net harder and winning battles. Seguin is more a playmaking centre. He sees the ice extremely well, and isn’t afraid to shoot from anywhere and he is a great skater. Hall is more of a take it himself type of player while Seguin is more of a distributor.”

Mike Vellucci gave me his thoughts on both as well.

What has been the biggest improvement in Seguin’s game this season?

“The biggest improvement is his finish. This year he has worked on being a more well-rounded player, not just an assist guy, but being able to score too and we’ve seen that with is 47 goals and 58 assists. He’s a well-rounded hockey player. He knows how to play in his own end, but just like any young guy you need to harp on him sometimes a bit more to make sure he does. He’s been involved in 43% of our goals this year, which is a very high number.”

How is Seguin dealing with all the fanfare and attention?

“He’s a level-headed kid. He actually deals with the media very well. He’s well-spoken and articulate and I know he wants to be the number one overall pick. That is his goal as is winning a championship this year. He wants to go the first pick and he hasn’t shied away from it. It’s something he is putting in an effort to make happen. He’s worked hard this summer to get there. He put on some weight, improved his foot speed and worked extremely hard and wanted to start the season strong. And he did. Taylor Hall has been tabbed number one the last three years, while not many people knew who Tyler was and he was out to prove he was every bit as good and as talented and wanted to be number one.”

What does he need to keep working on and improve to be successful in the NHL?

“Like most kids, strength is the biggest thing. I don’t have to harp on him that much, because he is in the weight room, not just with our team, but on his own and before practice. We work on little things. Where to be positionally, how to save your strength instead of skating all over and keep circling and do a little more stops and starts. He makes coaches look good, so really we work on strength, conditioning, consistency and also his defensive play.”

I asked him to compare Hall and Seguin.

“They are different no doubt about it. Taylor Hall is an exceptional player and his speed is dynamic. When the puck is on his stick everyone is trying to catch up or they are standing there watching him. He is dominant. Tyler has good speed as well, but he sees the ice so well and he controls the game. When the puck is on his stick he can slow it up and speed it up. Hall is a year older and will probably be more explosive his first couple years in the NHL, but I think Tyler Seguin will be a very dominant forward for several years as well.”

Sounds like both players are determined to be stars in the NHL, and it will be interesting to see which one has his name called first June 25th in Los Angeles.

  • Serious Gord

    I love the idea of a single tournament knockout for the final spot. You play the 82 games for the first seed, for home ice, for an easy first round matchup. To say this makes the 82 game regular season irrelevant is silly. If anything, it makes the 82 regular seaosn MORE important because getting first overall means you get to rest a week AND play a team that has just gone through 3 games of hell just to play the first round against you! Everybody gains from this. The owners love it, guaranteed playoff game means huge revenue. Fans will love it, its playoffs man! Vegas and gamblers would love it. itd be March Madness NHL Style! TV would love it…selling Do or Die is easy.

    Also, I think the best way to make the NHL all star game more interesting is to make it like gym class. Make Ovechkin and Crosby team captains, and make them pick players. Itd be fascinating who theyd pick…who goes first? Does Ovechkin go with his teammate Semin? or does he go with Malkin? Does Semin feel slighted? Who becomes the proverbial four eyed fat kid with asthma that goes last pick?

  • Serious Gord

    Hey Gregor, I phoned Mick Kearn on the war room a few months ago with this EXACT idea…

    "Changing the overtime formula to four minutes of four-on-four and if no goal was scored then they would play three-on-three for four minutes."

    Mik Kearn and his co host laughed at me. My idea was exactly what's above. Blows me away.

    Home Ice (XM radio) guys are ok, if your a Ned Flanders sort of a person.

    • Jason Gregor

      The AJHL does it and the 3-on-3 is great. I like the shootout, but 3 on 3 is more exciting. I agree with gettting down to three shooters if it goes to a shootout.

  • Serious Gord

    The shootout should go back to being a penalty shot only. Make the moment mean something again. 3 on 3 will appease the Americans and also make Canadian happy as well, and I think it would end games quicker and take the shackles off the players. Showcase team skill with tic tac toe, 3vs3 Globetotter hockey in place wearing out "the breakaway"

    • OilWagoner

      Last night, both the Habs and Oilers had seperate penalties in OT and had to play 3 on 3. And maybe the teams are bad examples of "skill", but it was a joke

      ugly, ugly hockey at that point

  • OilWagoner

    I find it ironic you three bafoons the other day (Gregor, Brownlee and Spector) would laugh about having a hard time finding 20 good officials in the NHL let alone 20 more for the AHL.

    Refereeing is much like broadcasting and writing. Everyone thinks they can do it, but don't realize until they do it, what it takes. It's like a ref in Northern Alberta who does Jr. B saying they'd have a hard time finding 20 quality sports media people in the country.

    Before you go bashing the refs, maybe you should look at yourselves in the mirror and, instead of catering to the masses, whom many have not picked up a whistle nor experienced any level of hockey officiating beyond their kid's pond hockey games, take someone up on the offer to go do a few minor hockey games and see how you fare. I'm sure we'll be more respectful when we evaluate your fat lazy asses, than you would on my writing and reporting.

    • Jason Gregor

      Mick McGeough, who oversees officials said it himself that they are having trouble finding enough qualified young refs right now.

      One little joke comment about the refs and you go off…wow, a touch thinned skin are we. It was actually Spec who made the joke and we laughed.

      If you listen regularly you should know that I'm not a ref basher. I don't like the "Ref ruined the game" excuse if he misses a call here or there.

      But the part that shows you haven't been paying attention is when you call me a fat ass. Sorry dude, I'm in good shape. Referring is hard, never said it wasn't but the fact is the league itself admitted they need to develop more, and better, referees.

      Thanks for the input.

  • Yeah, sorry, I got worked up.

    I do agree on the 3-on-3 thing. It was Spector who pissed me off about the ref thing – and then he said it didn't matter about the OT format. Are you kidding me? It's kind of a big deal.

    Ironically, the AJHL does 3 on 3 but they are moving to a shootout next year. Terrible.

    Kudos to you for following up on my tirade.

    I disagree with the young officials thing. I personally think there's just too many old guys hanging on too long and not giving young guys at the development ranks more of an opportunity.

    You'd be surprised how many great young officials are working ECHL, AHL and CHL for no pay. Some of the best even end up hanging it up far too early due to finances.