George Parros leading the charge to help NHL protect younger players

The origins of the latest rash of hits from behind is in minor hockey. Bob Frid/Icon Sportswire

MONTREAL -- The NHL's executives and general managers held their meeting where it all began 100 years ago at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal.

That's where a four-team Canadian league was formally established in "a plain and simple room," according to journalist Elmer Ferguson. The anniversary was celebrated on Friday in "a large banquet hall with expensive flower arrangements and matrimonial up-lighting," according to me.

These GM meetings are the table-setter for the more salient discussions held at March's conference in Florida. That's where new rules are voted on and big decisions are debated. The ones in Montreal this week are more informative, especially when it comes to standards of officiating and the NHL's department of player safety rulings.

Here are some of the interesting topics and talking points that emerged from the GM meetings:

More education needed for hits from behind

In minor hockey, player safety along the boards of the rink has been steadily increasing.

Players frequently turn their backs to defenders, with the expectation that they won't be hit. In some cases, these players are wearing actual stop signs on their backs to prevent boarding penalties.

But when these young players enter the NHL, there are no stop signs. There is less respect. And there are frequent, catastrophic hits being delivered on players who turn their backs to the play and face the glass instinctively, because they've gotten away with it in other leagues.

George Parros, the NHL's new director of the department of player safety, said that "more and more" younger players are putting themselves in a vulnerable position along the boards.

"We have players that are younger, and are growing up with less physicality, and now they're making it to the NHL and they're expecting less physicality. There's certainly some education involved, and this is the beginning of the discussion," said Parros, who discussed the topic with general managers on Friday.

"They've grown up with less physicality. When they have their back to the play, there's less contact with them, as there should be when your back is to the play. Now they're not anticipating it, maybe they're going into the boards more violently than normally players would have in the past, because in the past, players would have braced themselves and put their arms up on the glass in a safe matter."

The tricky part for the department of player safety, as well as for on-ice officials, is parsing out the cause and effect of injurious boarding plays. "Always, we will be judging force," Parros said, "but you see players that don't protect themselves and know somebody is coming, and are preparing to be hit."

Parros said there's been no discussion about material rules changes regarding boarding penalties. Instead, the discussion is focused on how to raise awareness for young players who are turning their backs to the play.

"It's nothing too alarming," he said. "But it's something we're paying attention to."

Goalie interference is subjective

The general managers watched a dozen video examples of goalie interference calls on goals, and then were polled on whether the correct call was made.

"If you have 70-percent consensus in a lot of areas, I think you're in pretty good shape," said Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli. "And we were generally in that area."

But here's the deal with goalie interference: It remains frustratingly subjective.

Officials can watch a video review, and look at the blue line and the puck and the skates and figure out -- occasional blown calls excepted -- whether a team was offside on a scoring play. When they look at goalie interference, they're judging whether contact occurred, whether a goalie was hindered in making a save and what drove another player to be in a position where interference was possible -- and let's face it: whether a call at that moment is the "correct" one given the players involved and the game situation, because that's how referees roll.

Honestly, it feels like every general managers meeting I've ever written about has had this video exercise where everyone watches a play and then votes and then claims to come away with a better understanding of goalie interference until their team gets jobbed on a call, and we're back to square one.

I asked Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee what the point was of all this.

"We believe we get more clarity, the more we discuss it. This happened years ago with kicked pucks into the net," he said. "We'll have more in-depth discussion when we're in Florida for the March meetings."

Coach's challenge gets a penalty

The GMs discussed the new rule this season where a failed challenge on an offside call results in a two-minute minor penalty for the team that wasted everyone's time. Overall, there was strong support for it. "I think the sentiment is generally positive on putting that minor penalty in and reducing the number of challenges," said Chiarelli.

Slashing crackdown gets reviewed

Through the first 277 games of this season, there have been 432 slashing penalties. If that seems like a lot, well, it is, comparatively: At that point last season, there were only 147 of them whistled.

"I think people are a little frustrated when you're getting those penalties and power plays against. But hopefully it smooths out and everybody adjusts to it. I think that's what everybody is anticipating," said Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. "It's frustrating going through the process, but hopefully we get to the point where it's effective and it's not being done anymore and there's not as many calls.''

Director of officiating Stephen Walkom had his officials call more slashing penalties this season, not because of a rules change but because of the letter of the law. This was after last season, when Sidney Crosby's slash that damaged the finger of Marc Methot, and Johnny Gaudreau and his general manager Brad Treliving openly criticized the NHL for the 21 slashes the Calgary Flames star suffered in one game against the Minnesota Wild.

Although the on-ice officials have been calling it more, the department of player safety has been fining and warning more players for slashing, too.

"Slashing has been a big concern of everybody this year," said Parros. "My hope is that most of the slashing and stuff gets taken care of on the ice. I don't anticipate too many instances coming before us.

"My focus has been on slashes that are done intentionally, behind the play. Non-hockey type of things. Slashes that land on the hands, fingertips area. It's a new standard. Everyone is getting used to it. If someone gives you a love-tap behind the play, and it's on the hand, and it's done intentionally? That's a warning. The variable is the force. We're trying to get rid of guys placing sticks on guy's fingertips."

For both the on-ice officials and the department of player safety, it's an ongoing process of re-educating players. The first two months of the season have featured hard lessons and plenty of penalty minutes -- will that get through to the players?