Brian Burke’s oft-blustery vibe hides a fundamental element of his nature.
At heart, he is conservative.
Take the NHL general manager’s meeting, convened Tuesday at a Toronto airport hotel.
There were two hot-button issues. One was the Milan Lucic hit on Buffalo’s Ryan Miller that drew no suspension from director of player safety Brendan Shanahan.
Burke understands the impact of losing your number one goalie. The Leafs were cruising along at 4-1-1 when James Reimer was hit by the Canadiens Brian Gionta. Since then they have gone 6-5-0 and the team’s goal against average has jumped by nearly a goal to 3.5 a game.
But the Leafs GM was striking a moderate tone even though two thirds of his fellow GMs felt the Lucic hit might be worthy of supplementary discipline.
“This is not a rampant issue, not an epidemic,” he said. “We had an incident three nights ago that is kind of a stand alone. It’s a sense of heightened awareness and we’ll see how it goes.”
Burke said players need to be able to pressure the crease.
“We said at the time James Reimer was hurt that it wasn’t worthy of a suspension. We still feel that way. I don’t think it was an accident but we want players to crowd the net and James was outside the crease when he got bumped. “
Certainly the Lucic hit was front and centre at the meeting. NHL vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell took a poll of the 30 GMs and found about two thirds would have considered a suspension a possibility. Director of player safety Brendan Shanahan said the hit wasn’t deliberate so he did not suspend Lucic but there is no question that hits to goalies are no longer a back-burner issue.
“To be fair the goaltender is the only player who doesn’t have an opportunity to retaliate in the game,” Burke said. “He can’t skate him down and hit him, he can’t fight him. His equipment isn’t designed for contact. He doesn’t practice contact drills. I think they’re entitled to some higher level of protection.”
Likewise, the idea of a plan to legislate the 1-3-1 trap out of existence didn’t have much traction for Burke, even after last week’s embarrassing contest between Philadelphia and Tampa in which the Flyers refused to attack and the Lightning declined to pressure the puck.
“I think the sense in the room is we’ve had so many thousand games without this happening,” Burke said. “It happened once. It’s not something we want to overreact to but it’s certainly not something we want to keep seeing.”
“You can legislate a team has to attack with the puck but in my mind there is no way to legislate out a defensive alignment or defensive systems because we’ve tried that.”
Campbell said there was a strong consensus from the managers on a hybrid icing rule. Instead of players racing for the puck as it crosses the goal line, the modified rule would include a virtual line between the faceoff dots. The player who gets there first is considered the player who touched the puck. The idea is that while fans enjoy watching a defenceman and forward racing to the puck, the new measure would reward hustle while preventing injuries.
“We will have to vote about it in March and then again we have to run it by the competition committee in the spring,” Campbell said. “I think it’s something that all 30 GMs want to take a longer look at it.”
Meanwhile, the league will install thinner mesh at the top of the net to gain a better look at whether it crosses the goal line. In net-cameras will also be used.
“It’s a matter of installing the mesh and the cameras over the next two, two and a half months,” Campbell said.
GMs will leave the sticky issue of realignment to the owners. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said he wants Winnipeg to play in the Western Conference next season. That would involve moving Columbus or, more likely, Detroit to the East.