By Stu Hackel
One of the most anticipated topics discussed at the GMs meetings in Toronto on Tuesday was the fallout from the Flyers-Lightning game last week. The managers declined to consider any new rules in response to the bizarre scenes in which Philadelphia refused to advance the puck after Tampa Bay went into its 1-3-1 defense. No Lightning player pressured the puck and the closest Tampa Bay skater was back on the offensive blueline, but the Flyers refused to move. That could change if we see a re-run of that strangeness in the future.
Most interesting were the remarks of Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, who indicated that he was not comfortable with the passive way his team responded to the trap. “To me, it just didn’t sit right,” he said of the ploy.
Here are Holmgren’s remarks prior to the meeting:
Considering all the blame that was hurled back and forth by various team personnel, media and fans in the game’s aftermath, it’s rather striking to hear that the Flyers’ GM would have prefered that his team try to challenge the trap and figure out a way to beat it as the Bruins did against Tampa Bay in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs, especially in their 1-0 Game 7, which might have been the single best match of the entire season.
“Personally, I didn’t have a problem with what Tampa Bay did,” Holmgren said. “They have great offensive players and if you turn the puck over, they can hurt you. There’s no way real way to mandate how a team plays.
“Speaking from the Philadelphia Flyers standpoint,” he added, “I’d like to see us attack the situation a little differently than we did in the last game.”
The discussions at the meeting were reportedly more about how to open up the game more, according to Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. “It’s something for people to think about, myself included,” he said to Damian Cristodero of The St. Petersburg Times. “It’s not a Tampa Bay Lightning or Philadelphia Flyers issue. It’s an issue for the game in general. We’ve taken out the red line and made the end zones bigger and coaches have adapted to ways that are going to make teams successful….
“Now the discussion is, what do we do about it?” Yzerman added. “Is it worth exploring ways of changing it or do we just live with it?”
The discussion will continue at the March meeting. Previous attempts to try to figure out how to loosen up neutral zone defenses have not yielded any workable solutions.
The prevailing sentiment coming out of the recent meetings was that the Nov. 9 game was an isolated incident and no one is expecting it to become an ongoing feature in the league. Many teams play a 1-3-1, although most use it as a forechecking system, not as a passive a neutral zone defense.
“I don’t know how many thousands of games we’ve played without this happening, but it’s happened once,” Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke said. “It’s certainly not something that we want to overreact to, but it’s certainly not something that we want to keep seeing, either.”