RALEIGH, N.C. - Paul Holmgren of the Flyers returned yesterday from the general managers' meetings in Naples, Fla., confident that the NHL would change its rules on suspensions for instigator penalties.

The general managers feel a player should be suspended for two games after five instigation penalties. At present, a player is suspended after accruing three.

Many clubs feel that their skilled players are being targeted and that their enforcers cannot protect them without facing suspensions.

The Flyers' Ben Eager is the only NHL player who has been suspended this season under the rule.

"The meetings were good and I think the change in the instigator rule is a step in the right direction," Holmgren said. "It's going to allow players to handle things more among themselves on the ice."

Asked whether he thought it was ironic that only Eager had been suspended this season, the Flyers' general manager replied that there were "a couple of teams on the bubble" for losing players in the future.

The matter will go before the league's competition committee, which comprises players and general managers, and then to the Board of Governors. If the board approves the change this spring, it would be enacted next season.

Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in Florida that he was not worried that a rule change would bring about a rise in violence.

"Among other things, it means a skilled player doesn't have to fight," Bettman said. "This wouldn't be the first time that we adjusted this. You fine-tune it, and if you need to adjust it again, you do."

Eager, who is sidelined indefinitely with a sprained right ankle, was suspended after picking up an instigator call on Jan. 13 in a fight against Pittsburgh's Chris Thorburn.

Knuble's surgery. Winger Mike Knuble underwent a one-hour operation yesterday at Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden, Holmgren said. Knuble was hurt Saturday in a collision with Brendan Shanahan of the New York Rangers.

"Mike had two plates inserted in his face to fixate the broken bones in both his right cheekbone and right orbital bone," Holmgren said.  "He will spend the night in the hospital and return home [today]. We are expecting him to return to action in approximately four weeks. . . . Everything went well, and Mike is resting comfortably." Guy Lanzi performed the surgery.

Zhitnik's milestone. Alexei Zhitnik became the 215th player in league history to play 1,000 games Tuesday in the Flyers' 6-3 loss in Buffalo. He was just the eighth European defenseman to achieve that mark, joining Nicklas Lidstrom, Borje Salming, Calle Johansson, Ulf Samuelsson, Fredrik Olausson, Petr Svoboda and Teppo Numminen.

Loose pucks. The Flyers will play the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in Raleigh. The Hurricanes have expressed interest in forwards Geoff Sanderson and Kyle Calder. But Holmgren said he expected nothing on trade issues to develop until some of the more prominent players such as St. Louis' Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk were moved.

Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio

at 215-854-2847 or tpanaccio@phillynews.com.