WEST KNAPSACK: League looks at rule changes

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Jim Kelley


Western Conference Knapsack

Our midweek collection of tidbits of information for your knapsack of hockey knowledge. We will vary just a bit from our team-by-team report at the start, to bring you our take on the NHL general managers voting to "explore" three on-ice procedures that could be implemented for play next season. In case you hadn't seen this yet, the general managers of the 30 National Hockey League teams this week approved further exploration of two items that got a lot of exposure at the Olympics, the so-called "hurry-up faceoff" rule and the "tag-up" offside rule. In addition, the GMs said they would look to redefine the standard of enforcement regarding obstruction. Once the issues are examined in detail by the hockey operations department, they will be presented as rules changes for consideration by the general managers and the board of governors at separate meetings in June. This, dear hockey fans, is not shocking. The league has experimented for years with the tag-up offside rule, tinkering with it in a variety of ways in an effort to end seemingly ceaseless whistles and stoppages in play. The "hurry-up faceoff" procedure was used at the Olympics and has been something the NHL has been looking at all year in the American Hockey League. The league has also claimed to be cracking down on obstruction in the game for almost as long as the Arctic Circle has had ice. What will happen? A variation of the 15-second faceoff rule is a dead certainty. It may be 15, or 20 or even a few seconds more if TV demands it, but it will pass and be implemented, perhaps as soon as next season. The "tag-up" offsides, which allows an "offside" team to leave the attacking zone and render itself "on-side" without a stoppage of play is already in effect in the NHL. It may get a minor facelift and even a new name, but don't look for a major change. As for a rededication to enforcement of obstruction, well, the GMs have been bellowing for that for years. The NHL, in various ways, shapes and forms, has been trying to accommodate them for years. The problem lies in the enforcement. And if history in the NHL has taught us anything it's that anytime the interpretation is left to an on-ice official, the tendency is to enforce, then let it fade so as not to "interfere" with the outcome of the game. Simply put, the NHL will make changes in light of the Olympics. Whether or not they will be enforced, well, we wouldn't bet a Wayne Gretzky tirade on that. Anaheim: The trade of Marty McInnis to Boston for a draft pick is a confirmation of what we've known all season about the Ducks: They are not a playoff team. Moving the vet for a future pick (third round in this summer's entry draft) amounts to little more than a salary dump. McInnis signed a three-year contract extension last season thought to be worth some $5 million, but sources tell FOXSports.com that the Ducks didn't think they were getting good value for their money and McInnis, tired of the losing, wanted to play for a playoff contender. Not only does he get his wish, but he gets to go home as well. He is a native of the Boston area. This is the first of many moves to come for the Ducks. Calgary: He's not being mentioned much in all the trade-deadline hockey talk, but Mike Vernon can be had for next to nothing. How do we know? Well, sources told FOXSports.com that the Flames put the veteran goaltender on waivers recently and there were no takers. It can't be just because of the $2.75 million in salary. More likely it's because he's 1-16-1 in limited playing time this season and pretty much at the end of a stellar career. These same sources report that the Toronto Maple Leafs inquired after the injury to No. 1 netminder Curtis Joseph, but that they view Vernon as an acquisition of last resort. Vernon has two Stanley Cup rings to his credit, but this is a what-have-you-done-lately league and the numbers simply aren't there. Chicago: Too little too late? The Blackhawks, which never put home games on TV, have vowed to put playoff games on the tube this spring. Interesting, but it may be too late. Despite some decent success this season, the Hawks' season ticket base is said to be as low as 6,000. The feeling in Chicago is age-old decisions by an out-of-step ownership has killed off interest in the team, even though it's been a down year for several years for the NBA's Bulls. It appears Chicago sports fans have found other things to occupy their time, money and viewing habits. Too bad, this is a team that is worth watching. Colorado: The groin and abdominal injuries suffered by Milan Hejduk are difficult for the Avs. He was one of their bright young stars and was expected to shoulder a big part of the scoring load down the stretch and into the playoffs. Even without surgery, he could be gone for the season. He scored 41 goals last season and played in the All-Star game, and though he's fallen off a bit this season, he's still a prized player. Don't look for the Avs to make a move in the trade market right away, however. They want to get a grasp as to how close Peter Forsberg is to returning before making a move that could be expensive down the road. Forsberg, who underwent ankle surgery again in January, is said to be working out again and is supposed to have the flexible cast on his ankle removed sometime this week. It's likely we will read a lot about hints of Forsberg returning, but the betting here is that they are a smokescreen to help drive down prices in the trade market. The buzz around the league is that the Avs still want to pry veteran Bill Guerin out of Boston, but only if the price is right. Columbus: Look, it's lights out for these guys. Start combing the roster for excessive salary (there really isn't much) and look for trade rumors. The most likely is goalie Ron Tugnutt, but only if a team takes on full salary (about $2 million per) and gives up a promising player or a high pick in return. We've discounted the Lyle Odelein rumors, but there's real talk that Mike Sillinger can be had. Dallas: Goalie Ed Belfour trashed the locker room in Vancouver to the tune of about $5,000 (no word yet as to whether or not that's Canadian or American money), further evidence that he's not long for the Stars world. Belfour is an unrestricted free agent at season's end. He's been replaced as a starter (not official yet, but obvious to those who watch the team closely) by Marty Turco and he's pretty much worn out his welcome with management and ownership despite their statements to the contrary. Rest assured he'll be shopped to Toronto and other teams at the deadline. There are even early whispers that the Philadelphia Flyers have an interest if the price is right. Detroit: Steve Yzerman insists the Olympics were not draining on him or other veteran players. He also maintains that despite his knee woes, he'll be ready for the playoffs. "The best training camp you can have to get you ready for the playoffs is playing in the Olympics," Yzerman said. Edmonton: The Oilers keep denying they are in trade mode. But with the team sitting outside the playoff circle, word is the only untouchables on the team are goalie Tommy Salo, Eric Brewer, Ryan Smyth, Mike Comrie and Georges Laraque. The oft-dangled Tom Poti is expected to move largely because the puck-rushing defenseman can bring the second-line forward that the Oilers desperately need. Various role players, including Mike Grier and Todd Marchant are also said to be on the block. Los Angeles: The Kings are expecting to have injured coach Andy Murray back with the team Thursday night in Nashville. The team said his return behind the bench will be determined once Murray meets with his coaching staff. Murray suffered a serious concussion, some broken ribs and a broken shoulder in a car crash at home in Minnesota during the All-Star break. He's healing nicely from the broken bones, but the concussion has given him headaches and blurred vision, and he hasn't been able to fly as a result. Twice he tried to board a plane to return to Los Angeles, but both times he had to scuttle the flight as motion sickness overtook him (a common occurrence with concussion cases). Minnesota: For the record, Herb Brooks, who lives in Minnesota and coached Team USA at the Olympics, never said Canadian hockey was stupid, an item that was reported (without foundation) about as many times as the false allegations that the U.S. women disrespected the Canadian flag. What Brooks said was: "We've got great athletes in there (the NHL). You want to charge me a hundred bucks to come to a game and put me to sleep. I mean it's stupid. "The NHL players are great athletes, so basically play the college rules. Move the goal line up 15 feet, and let the players perform. I think we would have a better game. I think that athletes would enjoy it more. I just think it is a better overall product.'' Having said that, Brooks isn't expecting any major changes despite the NHL saying it would look at a few. "The NHL is very much a traditionalist group of people,'' Brooks said. "I just think they need to think beyond the box right now. I asked Mr. Bettman what did he do when he was an official in the NBA? When the league was in a funk, they went to a 3-point shot and the 24-second shot clock. "What the National Football League do? Now after 5 yards, you can't bump the wideouts, and the result is the passing game came alive. "Sports is entertainment business and you have to give the game to the players, and I think that then you have an overall better product. FYI: The Wild are looking to move minor-league and sometimes NHL backup goalie Jamie McLennan along with soon-to-be-unrestricted free agent Sergei Zholtok. Nashville: The Predators are not likely to make the playoffs this season, but they are an interesting team. Through Tuesday night, they have posted three shutouts in their last six games (1-0 in OT at Columbus and 1-0 over Florida before the Olympic break, and then 2-0 at San Jose on Tuesday). Also interesting is the fact that Denis Arkhipov scored the game-winning goal in all three games. The Predators are now 6-2-1 in last nine games overall. With Chicago losing in OT Tuesday, the Predators are only NHL team without an OT loss, going 5-0-10 this season in the extra frame. Those shutouts make a man wonder whether or not goalie Mike Dunham deserved more than one start (a win) for Team USA in the Olympics. FYI: Cliff Ronning is about to reach an NHL milestone. Tuesday he appeared in his 998th NHL regular-season game. Barring injury, his 1,000th NHL regular-season game should come Saturday in Florida. The diminutive Ronning is the Predators' leading scorer again this season with 16-30-46. He has led the team in scoring in each of first three seasons. In all, he has 277-512-789 in 998 NHL regular-season games. There are a lot of playoff-bound teams that have an interest in Ronning, and the Preds might oblige for a decent draft pick or a prospect or two. Phoenix: Rookie center Krys Kolanos is still battling concussion problems since he got knocked out Jan. 19 by Buffalo's Vaclav Varada. The very promising player has missed 15 consecutive games through the weekend. He had six consecutive days of symptom-free workouts on the exercise bike, but then the headaches resumed. The whisper in the desert is that Kolanos is through for the season, but the club has yet to make that announcement. FYI: A tip of the proverbial hat to defenseman Teppo Numminen, who Sunday played in his 1,000th NHL game, all with the same franchise. Not often that happens in the NHL today. St. Louis: The fact that the Blues plucked Ted Donato off the waiver wire is a strong indication that injured forwards Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight are not coming back anytime soon. Weight has a ligament strain in his right knee, but sources tell FOXSports.com the club is more worried about a problem in his hip/pelvis area. Tkachuk has a groin pull and a thigh bruise, both of which are said to be serious. Tkachuk was injured in the Olympics, Weight in a game vs. Calgary on Feb. 28. Donato is 32 and his best hockey is behind him. He has spent the bulk of this season with the L.A. Kings' minor-league affiliate. San Jose: There's some concern in San Jose that the Sharks are losing their killer instinct. The recent loss to Nashville has put first place in the Pacific division in danger and the Sharks don't seem willing or perhaps even capable of responding. This has happened before in San Jose and management is watching closely to see if the team needs an infusion of veteran play to add a little more backbone to a good team but one that seems to have trouble in pressure situations. Vancouver: The Canucks now appear a lock to make the playoffs again this season, but sources tell FOXSports.com that general manager Brian Burke was making the rounds at the GM meetings in Florida looking for a team that would part with a forward of some repute. The Canucks have a defensive prospect or two to spare, but the return has to be a player who can add some size and muscle up front. It's worth noting that forward Jarkko Ruutu, who does not add size or muscle, has been a healthy scratch of late. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Red Wings, Oilers, Kings, Stars, Flyers, Avalanche, Sharks, Blues, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Coyotes, Ducks, Predators, Blue Jackets, Wild, Bill Guerin, Steve Yzerman, Todd Marchant, Eric Brewer, Tom Poti, Ryan Smyth, Georges Laraque, Mike Comrie, Marty Turco, Ed Belfour, Milan Hejduk, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Curtis Joseph, Mike Dunham, Mike Sillinger, Jamie McLennan

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