Cross Checks

Rumblings: GMs likely to address fightning
November 5, 2013 8:50:14 PM PST
By Pierre LeBrun

There was likely to be a fighting discussion at next week’s NHL general managers meeting in Toronto, but the mini-brawl Friday night in Philadelphia probably cemented it.

While nothing is finalized yet in terms of what GMs will discuss with the league’s hockey operations executives, there’s a very good chance fighting will be among the topics.

No formal rule recommendations are expected in the one-day meeting; more likely it’s about setting things up for the annual three-day March meeting in Florida, when the GMs have more time to dissect potential rule changes, break out into small groups and officially make recommendations.

But the seed in some part will be planted next Tuesday.

As I wrote over the weekend, the idea that goalies should be automatically suspended for going down the ice to fight another goalie will almost definitely come up after Ray Emery’s pummeling of unwilling combatant Braden Holtby. There is no current rule that would see Emery suspended, but GMs will discuss changing that.

The bottom line is: Most hockey people just don’t want to see goalies fighting.

I think the theme of the fighting discussion next week, if it is indeed held, will be along the lines of continuing to find ways to minimize some aspects of fighting in the game, just like the NHL's implementing the helmet rule this season in which fighters have to keep their lids on or else get an extra penalty for fighting without it. Calm down, fighting fans, the idea is not to completely ban fighting, but rather to get rid of some of the elements hockey people no longer want.

For example, Gabriel Landeskog's fight with Alex Chiasson last Friday night is what people still want to see: an emotional fight between two good hockey players that most hockey people feel strongly still has an important place in the game. But having two enforcers go at it in a staged fight? That has grown stale for many people.

One idea that could come up next week is the current rule that stipulates three fighting majors and you’re thrown out of the game; why not make it two fighting majors and you’re out, instead?

(By the way, four players have had two fights in a game so far this season.)

Just like the helmet rule this season, it’s about pecking away at the issue, rule change by rule change. Whether or not the majority of GMs want to continue down this path, however, remains to be seen.

As it is, fighting is down this season. Through Monday night, there were 109 fights in 216 games on the season, compared to 124 fights through the same number of games last season (down 12 percent). This is way down from the late 1980s, when the NHL averaged just more than a fight per game.

Meanwhile, the formal agenda hasn’t been finalized, but one can expect this among other things next Tuesday:

-- A hybrid icing discussion: There’s some concern about the new icing rule and how it’s working out so far.

-- NHL hockey ops’ Kay Whitmore is scheduled to have an update on the reduced goalie equipment/measurements and how his surprise spot checks on netminders are going so far this season. No goalie has been caught wearing illegal equipment (two-game suspension if anyone is caught).

-- If it’s like past GM meetings, Brendan Shanahan normally gives a presentation on supplemental discipline and how it’s gone so far this season, certainly a very busy opening month for him.

DEVILS DRAFT PICK
Most people are aware that the New Jersey Devils are forfeiting their first-round pick next June in the NHL draft as the final penalty from the league for the original, illegal contract given to Ilya Kovalchuk. All of which makes it harder to stomach for Devils fans, who see their team 26th in the NHL’s overall standings as of Tuesday morning.

The first round next June will have 29 picks instead of 30.

But what’s also intriguing is what the NHL will do with the draft lottery. No final decision has been made, but a source tells ESPN.com that should the Devils miss the playoffs, the league is leaning toward keeping New Jersey in the actual lottery for the purpose of figuring out the draft order.

Then, for example, if the Devils end up with the fifth overall pick out of the lottery draft, they will be removed from the draft order and all the teams beneath the Devils move up a rung.

BRODEUR FUTURE
Veteran Devils scribe Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger had an interesting story Tuesday, quoting Martin Brodeur about possibly being open to a trade later in the season if things completely fall off the rails in New Jersey.

Reached Tuesday evening by ESPN.com, Brodeur made it clear that it’s not something that’s really on his mind at this point. He was simply asked if he’d be willing to join a contender and potentially waive his no-trade clause in the event the Devils were out of it in March.

"I want to be in the playoffs with the Devils and nobody else," Brodeur told ESPN.com. "But if it doesn’t happen, maybe I would look at an opportunity, I guess. But that’s something for later in the season, if at all."

Further, Brodeur added he would consider it only if veteran Devils GM Lou Lamoriello approached him about it in the first place.

"It would have to come from Lou, not from me, I would never ask Lou that," Brodeur told ESPN.com. "He would have to ask me. I would do whatever Lou thought was right."

BENN ON RADAR
For many, Jamie Benn was perhaps the most surprising name not invited to Team Canada’s camp last August.

His strong play so far this season, however, has him right back on Team Canada’s radar from what we’re hearing.

For starters, his move from center to wing this season in Dallas can only help his Olympic case, as Canada is loaded at center but has perhaps the most question marks at left wing, where a few centers might end up playing out of position.

The fact that Benn actually plays left wing every night now and how impactful he’s been has done nothing but raise his Olympic stock and put him at least back in the conversation.

DESHARNAIS SCRATCHED
Center David Desharnais was made a healthy scratch by the Canadiens for Tuesday night’s game with the St. Louis Blues.

In other words, rock bottom for the 5-foot-7 forward who has been in the coach’s doghouse for most of the season.

That $14 million, four-year extension the Habs signed him to last March doesn’t look great right now, but a little perspective is also needed here.

Desharnais was coming off a 60-point season in 2011-12 and was putting up decent numbers again in the lockout-shortened season at the time of the signing; and he had salary arbitration rights. The thinking last season was that if Desharnais went to arbitration, he could easily get as much as $4 million a year. So the Habs decided to be proactive and sign him ahead of time. It sounded good at the time; now it obviously looks like an anchor of a deal.

What you can’t predict is how some players are going to react to their first real contract. Desharnais, who fought his way up from the ECHL to make it to the NHL, went from making $850,000 to $3.5 million, and frankly, almost to the day he signed the big contract, he hasn’t been the same player.

With just one assist in 15 games this season, perhaps sitting out a game or two now will provide him with a chance to reset mentally and perhaps learn something from watching the games in street clothes. Hopefully, he returns to the lineup refreshed and re-energized, because he’s a good story. But he needs to remember what made him so hungry to begin with in his journey to the NHL; he needs to find that edge again in his game.

Tags: New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars, 2014 Winter Olympics, 2014 Sochi Olympics, Martin Brodeur, Jamie Benn, David Desharnais

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