If Milan Lucic were to knock Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller senseless in the hours after Tuesday's NHL general managers' meeting, he would be facing a lot more than the two-minute minor penalty the Boston Bruins winger received for the actual hit last Saturday.
This does not mean the GMs ordered up any changes to rules 42.1 or 69.4, which govern hits on goaltenders outside their creases, but it does mean a message was sent to the league's on-ice officials to crack down harder on such hits. And the players were told goaltenders are not to be considered fair game under any circumstances once they leave their creases. Brendan Shanahan, the NHL vice-president of player safety, will be using supplemental discipline more on such hits because two-thirds of the GMs said that was what they wanted.
With Miller still out indefinitely with a concussion as the result of Lucic's open-ice hit, one might not think this was of any consolation to Sabres GM Darcy Regier. He criticized Shanahan's decision not to suspend Lucic, but said after the meeting he was happy the matter was addressed.
"I'm confident the right steps will be taken," Regier said.
Others, including goaltenders, supported Shanahan's decision because they felt Lucic did not intentionally try to hit Miller on the head. They also thought Miller put himself in danger when he left the crease to chase the puck.
"I think the league needs to protect the goalies but personally I don't think it deserved a suspension," Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price said. "I don't have any disrespect for [Lucic]but I don't think that was a very good play, especially on a goaltender.
"But things happen in a game where you might look back on it and be like, 'Why'd I do that?' so you have to give him that [benefit of the doubt]"
The November GMs meeting traditionally does not produce recommendations for rule changes. But it does produce suggestions for changes that will be considered at their major annual meetings in March.
Also discussed Tuesday were ways to deal with the use of the 1-3-1 neutral-zone trap that smothers offensive hockey and the introduction of a hybrid icing call in order to cut down the serious injuries resulting from races for the puck. The GMs were also supposed to discuss divisional realignment but ran out of time and only looked at it briefly.
The GMs decided no immediate action was needed in any area. They will monitor the goaltending and neutral-zone trap situations and look at them again in March.
Most of the GMs surveyed coming out of the meeting think the existing rules, which allow referees to call minor, major or game misconducts on players who hit goaltenders outside of his crease, are sufficient. But Nashville Predators GM David Poile thinks some thought should be given to changing the language of the rules.
"I didn't like [the Lucic hit]and I didn't want my goaltender to be hit like that," Poile said. "Maybe we don't have the proper wording in the rules right now. I would like to look at it in March."
Poile also wants his peers and the league to keep a close eye on the neutral-zone trap issue, although he doesn't think it will become a problem. Many felt the smothering defensive system was creeping back into the league even before Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette staged a protest against it by ordering his players not to advance the puck when the Tampa Bay Lightning went into a 1-3-1 formation when the score was 0-0 in a game last week.
"The consensus was we should just monitor it," Poile said. "I'd be concerned if that's a repetitive situation. I don't think it's going to be."
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke agreed. "No one wants to overreact to one game or one experience like this. Keep an eye on it and see if it becomes prevalent. Certainly no one wants to see a rash like this," he said.
With a file from Sean Gordon