The primary item discussed at yesterday's NHL general managers meeting was how to penalize vicious hits to the head. A secondary item was addressing all those pesky shootouts.

The GMs convened in the grand ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Center City for about 5 hours. They emerged with a recommendation that blows to the head carry a major penalty and a game misconduct.

"We want an in-game penalty," said Toronto's Brian Burke. "It's one thing to suspend the player, but that has no impact on the game. It doesn't penalize the team for that game. Our feeling is that it should be 5 [minutes] and a game."

In March, the league prohibited shoulder checks to the head and warned players that such hits would be reviewed and suspensions handed out when warranted.

One of the most controversial hits this season came when Flyers captain Mike Richards leveled Florida's David Booth in October. Richards was not penalized on the play, but probably would have been under the new restrictions. Booth missed 45 games.

League officials hope that yesterday's development would penalize the offending team for that particular game. Approval by the competition committee and the board of governors is next.

"I can't imagine there'd be any opposition to it," Burke said. "We gotta take that hit out of the game."

The GMs hope to enact the new sanctions for next season.

What is not expected to happen right away is any tinkering of the shootouts that follow regular-season games. But that doesn't mean it's not being examined.

Calgary general manager Darryl Sutter said that out of all the overtime games this season, 60 percent went to a shootout. The league instituted the shootout following the 2004-05 lockout, having no idea it would be needed so frequently. Its most critical use came on the final day of the regular season, when the Flyers clinched a playoff spot by beating the Rangers in a game decided by a shootout.

"I don't think it's a pressing issue, but it's something to keep your eye on," Burke said. "The rule changes that were made coming out of the lockout have made the game great, but I think that is a wrinkle, if you will, or a wart that we have to look at."

One possible adjustment could be to extend overtime from 5 minutes to perhaps 10. But a number of nuances must be considered before any adjustments are made.

"You have to remember our schedule, the [excessive] travel, the [time-zone] advantages teams have coming from the West to the East; there are so many things that go into it," Sutter said. "It's not that simple just to make changes."

Cracking the whip

The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have a first-round pick in the June 25 draft. They dealt it to Boston for center Phil Kessel. Unfortunately for the Leafs, that pick ended up being the No. 2 overall selection. Toronto's first pick is No. 62, and there has been widespread speculation it is trying to get back into the first round.

Not coincidentally, defenseman Tomas Kaberle is on the trading block.

"We paid the price tag for Phil Kessel, and we'd do it again tomorrow," Burke said. "We didn't envision the pick would be where it is. The reason I want to get a first-round pick is not to get the media off my back. It's so my scouts don't sit there with their thumbs up their butts for 3 hours."

Slap shots

Rookie forward James van Riemsdyk was a healthy scratch for the second game in a row. Dan Carcillo remained in the lineup and started the game with Claude Giroux and Arron Asham . . . Mark Messier was on hand at the Wachovia Center to narrow down the finalists for his NHL Leadership award. Mike Richards, a top-five finalist, was not part of the final three - Sidney Crosby, Shane Doan and Ryan Miller. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 24. *

Daily News sports writer Frank Seravalli contributed to this report.