GMs receive labor update from the NHL

ROMULUS, Mich. -- After months of heated discussions with the players' association, NHL general managers ended two days of meetings bickering among themselves.

The six-hour, closed-door session between the GMs on Friday dealt with how to handle a draft that follows a season that never was and who deserves a shot at Canadian phenom and expected top pick Sidney Crosby.

``The temperature got high very quickly,'' New York Islanders GM Mike Milbury said, describing the brief but ``heated debate'' that he believes will be settled by commissioner Gary Bettman and the league's board of governors.

One of the proposals under consideration involves having all 30 teams enter a lottery for the first pick, an idea none too popular among teams that finished the 2003-2004 season at the bottom of the standings.

``It certainly has the tendency to be a difficult issue,'' NHL executive vice president Bill Daly said following the meeting at an airport hotel near Detroit.

Usually, the draft order is set based on the previous season's standings, but that is not possible this year.

Washington won last year's draft lottery, after finishing with the league's second-worst record, and grabbed Russian sensation Alexander Ovechkin with the No. 1 pick. The Capitals would love the chance to go first again and add Crosby.

``Every GM in the league can make an argument for having the first pick,'' Los Angeles Kings GM Dave Taylor said.

As for the league's labor situation, more progress may have been made at dinner and in the barroom than in the meeting room.

Some of the GMs and the players who were invited to sit in on Thursday's session on potential rules changes ate dinner together. Also, commissioner Gary Bettman and players' association executive director Bob Goodenow spent time together, talking at the hotel bar Thursday night - a development New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello joked ``should not be looked at as a negative.''

The last time the NHL and the players' union met was earlier this week in Toronto when the NHLPA rejected two league proposals.

``The first couple of meetings after the season was canceled, I didn't think there was much of a change (in mood), but I hope we can continue with the progress of the last meeting,'' said Daly, who did not give a specific date for the next meeting. ``There seems to be a good understanding across the table of where we are.''

Some GMs expressed confidence that a deal will be struck before the start of the 2005-2006 season.

``The realization that we really need to get it done has really sunk in,'' Milbury said.

Said Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe: ``Instinctively, my own personal thoughts are we're going to be back.''

On Thursday, the GMs and players - including Detroit Red Wings forward Steve Yzerman and Devils goalie Martin Brodeur - discussed possible rules changes designed to add scoring and add excitement to the league.

Changes could include cutting down the size of goaltending equipment, limiting the goalie's ability to play the puck behind the net, enforcing obstruction penalties and instituting shootouts to eliminate tie games.

While no decisions were made or recommendations adopted over the two days, many who left the meeting said they felt good about what was discussed.

Many in the league see the changes as a necessity, given the lack of scoring before the NHL became the first major sports league in North America to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.

One subject that was expected to come up during the meeting - expanding the size of the nets - wasn't discussed either day. But three prototype goals were set up in the meeting room to give participants an idea of what might be considered.

The GMs can only suggest rules changes. All ideas would need to be approved by the NHL's board of governors, which is scheduled to meet on April 20.

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