Is hockey in a good place?
The NHL’s 31 general managers seem to think so, as do the league’s top officials.
The annual GM’s meeting in Boca Raton, Florida wrapped up two days of congratulatory back-patting Tuesday as they declared the sport is healthy and there’s no need for radical change at this time.
You’re always looking and talking and tweaking. But the good news is you don’t have to find a problem. The game’s in pretty good shape right now. Real good shape. -Brad Treliving, Flames GM
The changes they implemented a couple of years ago, such as cracking down on slashing, appear to be working. According to sportsnet.ca, slashing penalties continue to fall and players have adjusted their games accordingly to avoid a trip to the penalty box.
Scoring continues to rise with an average of 6.2 goals per game, the highest it has been since 2006. That may be part and parcel with the fact slashing penalties have been on the decline, thus creating more quality chances for the guy with the puck.
It seems like we’re just about perfect. The game is in a really good place in terms of whatever you want to measure. Goal scoring’s up. Comebacks are up. Fighting’s down. Stoppages of play are consistent over the years. All the various ways we measure the game show us it’s just about as good as it’s ever been, which is great news for all of us. -George McPhee
He has a point. The game overall has more flow. We are seeing more teams rally to create a competitive game. Witness lowly Ottawa taking the Islanders into a shootout Tuesday after trailing 3-1 and 4-2 in the second period. Teams always think they have a shot to pick up a point.
The GMs, to their credit, keep looking to make hockey safer. They are proposing a player whose helmet comes off proceed directly to the bench rather than continue skating. For William Karlsson’s fans who love to see those flowing blond locks, that’s not good news. But better to have Wild Bill safely on the bench rather than suffer a serious head or eye injury because he lost his lid and decided playing without it was the macho thing to do as is the current hockey culture.
And speaking of culture, one thing I wished was addressed at the GM meetings apparently wasn’t. That something is injuries and the clandestine handling of them.
Currently, a guy gets hurt and the league leaves it up to the team to decide how much information gets disseminated. Some teams will tell you everything, a few just enough and most nothing more than a “lower-body” or “upper body.”
We all know how the Golden Knights operate in this department. McPhee divulges so little when it comes to injuries, you thought he worked in the CIA, not the NHL. He has said on more than one occasion that it’s about protecting his players.
Nobody outside the team truly knows what’s going on with Will Carrier. In Erik Haula’s case, GMGM had no choice but to confirm the guy hurt his knee back on Nov. 6 in Toronto. It was clearly evident and in plain sight for everyone to see.
My wish is for the NHL to clarify ALL injuries, regardless of severity and do what the NFL does. Have categories to the extent of the injuries, say what the injuries are in a daily league-wide report and teams that try to circumvent the system get heavily fined.
In Haula’s case, he would be listed as “Out.” In Carrier’s case, he would either be “Out” or “Doubtful” depending on his current status. If Carrier has a hand injury, say it. If it’s a shoulder problem, say it. (SinBin.vegas has reason to believe it’s a finger injury that was suffered from a blocked shot, but the fact that we aren’t 100% sure proves the point.)
If all 31 teams had to comply, you would have the transparency needed. But that would require a change in the sport’s culture. And frankly, I don’t see it coming anytime soon.
I’d also like to see the goaltender interference rules clarified and a clear determination of what constitutes it. Every time we see a team challenge, we watch the replay, we determine, yes, it was interference, only to get the ruling from the referee that there wasn’t and vice versa.
It’s a guessing game and if you guess wrong, it leaves you feeling angry and bitter. The Jonathan Marchessault interference call in Game 2 of the playoffs against San Jose last year will always bother me. Brushing by a goalie should not be interference. Knocking him down? Yeah, that’s interference.
Maybe down the road that will get done. But for now, we continue to flip a coin and hope it gets called the right way.
As mentioned, there were 31 GMs in Florida this week though Edmonton is looking for a replacement for Peter Chiarelli. Keith Gretzky has been serving in the interim.
The Oilers would like to talk to Kelly McCrimmon, the Golden Knights’ assistant GM. But McPhee made it clear the other day that teams will have to wait until after the Knights are done playing in order to talk to “Crim.”
If I’m Seattle, I love McPhee. Seattle would certainly be interested in talking to McCrimmon about being its first GM and time is on its side. Seattle can wait until May, or perhaps June.
Edmonton can also wait if it wants to. But owner Bob Nicholson said at the GM meetings Monday that the process is underway and the Oilers hope to accelerate their search in the next two weeks. If that’s true, then perhaps McCrimmon isn’t Edmonton’s target.
For McCrimmon, he has plenty to focus on right now. The junior league playoffs are going to be getting underway in a week. The Kontinental League playoffs are already underway in Russia and the Knights are keeping close tabs on Nikita Gusev, who plays for SKA St. Petersburg. Incidentally, Ken did a brilliant job the other day breaking down Gusev’s status and potential options for joining the Knights down the road.
The NCAA hockey tournament also starts up later this month and there’s scouting to be done of potential NHL playoff opponents.
That means a lot of travel for McCrimmon and the rest of the Knights’ hockey ops staff and scouts. It’s a critical time of the year and McPhee is absolutely correct in issuing his “Hands off” edict regarding McCrimmon, or any of his staff for that matter. These guys need to focus on their jobs and not deal with distractions and speculation and rumors.
If the Oilers really covet McCrimmon, they’ll put their search on hold, let Gretzky run the day-to-day operation and wait until Vegas is done playing. But my sense is they have an antsy owner who wants to get this done now, not in May or June.
But good for McPhee. He did the right thing, not just for himself and for the organization, but especially for Kelly McCrimmon.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**