Gary Bettman

Gary Bettman’s new concussion protocols make NHL GMs upset

Despite the fact that the changes were announced during last week’s GM meetings, Gary Bettman apparently didn’t poll the league’s 30 general managers regarding changes to concussion diagnosis and protocol, according to Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun.

From the sound of things, some GMs are pretty upset with the changes Bettman enacted regarding how teams diagnose concussions. They have an especially big problem with the provision that forces a player who might have been concussed to meet with a doctor instead of a trainer during a 15-minute process.

A few general managers anonymously spoke with Francis about their issues with the changes Bettman made. They were upset by the fact that the league’s commissioner didn’t clear the changes with them and pointed to “the unreasonableness” of the new protocol.

“I have no problem treating these things cautiously but this is an overreaction, a knee-jerk reaction,” said the GM, insisting at least a third of the GMs agree with him and will make their feelings known to the league.

“We weren’t allowed to vote or discuss it. I was in the bar with about 10 other guys afterwards and they were all grumbling about it. I’m not opposed to beefing up the protocol but we know it doesn’t take 15 minutes and that’s my biggest concern. There’s a right way and a wrong way. This is what doctors told the league is best to do but we’re the ones to have to put the thing in practice and it doesn’t make sense.”

With an eye on identifying and managing the increasing number of concussions the NHL has seen this year, Bettman instituted the directive at last week’s GM meetings as part of a five-point plan to improve player safety. As part of the concussion protocol, the NHL commissioner took the power away from trainers who have typically tended to banged up players and put it squarely in the hands of the game’s host physician. Some have worried host doctors could either take their time getting down to see a visiting player or err too much on the side of caution to deprive a visiting team its star player.

“We don’t worry about a doctor’s ethical stance — they have way too much integrity for that,” said the GM, who requested anonymity for obvious reasons.

“I’m worried about how much time it takes. Maybe a doctor is dealing with another player at the time. Why 15 minutes and why is it out of the trainer’s hands? What about a guy like (Milan) Lucic who gets drilled and is always slow to get up but is never hurt? Does he sit for 15? We have to sit down and talk about it with the league and the doctors in the room at the draft this June.”

Considering the fact that a substantial chunk of the league’s teams at least have a shot at earning a playoff spot despite the fact that there’s less than a month left in this season, it’s clear that every game counts. That means that pulling a player out of a game prematurely could impact teams who need every win and every point they can get.

Francis reveals that some teams are so concerned with the timeliness and availability of opposing teams’ doctors that they might try to get their own team doctors to accompany clubs on road trips. Such a measure could be costly and also complicated because there might be markets where an out-of-state doctor might not be licensed to practice medicine, Francis explains.

In other words, there might be some considerable growing pains from these changes. It’s surprising that Bettman would make a choice that is reportedly so unpopular among GMs, since that seems like the one group of people the controversial commish manages to please through thick and thin.

That being said, in a climate where concussion consciousness is at a new height, maybe it’s better to overreact rather than ignoring a growing problem. Personally, I prefer an overreaction to an oblivious shrug.

More good times in Washington, as Backstrom named first star of the week

Nicklas Backstrom
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The Caps have won nine in a row and catapulted to top spot in the NHL with 63 points, one ahead of second-place Columbus.

Suffice to say, folks are feelin’ fine in D.C.

Those good vibes continued on Monday, as center Nicklas Backstrom was named the NHL’s first star of the week.

More:

Backstrom led the League in assists and points with 3-7—10 in four contests as the Capitals won all four games to extend their overall winning streak to nine contests and propel Washington to the top of the NHL standings (29-9-5, 63 points).

Backstrom registered multiple points in all four games starting with one goal and one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 9. On Jan. 11, he recorded one goal and three assists in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by one goal and one assist in a 6-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 13. Backstrom finished the week by notching two assists in a 5-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 15.

In his 10th season, all with the Capitals, the 29-year-old Galve, Sweden native leads the Capitals and is tied for 10th in League scoring with 42 points (12-30—42 in 43 GP).

Backstrom, of course, wasn’t the only big story in Washington last week. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point on Wednesday, becoming the first player in franchise history to hit that mark.

The only negative thing coming out of D.C. is that John Carlson, who leads all Caps d-men in scoring, is out for today’s game versus Pittsburgh. Carlson’s absence will be brief, though, as head coach Barry Trotz expects him back in the lineup later this week.

Panthers recall McIlrath from AHL — but will they play him?

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Ryan Reaves #75 of the St. Louis Blues and Dylan McIlrath #42 of the New York Rangers fight during the first period at Madison Square Garden on November 3, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers have recalled defenseman Dylan McIlrath from a conditioning stint in the AHL.

The question now is whether they’ll play him.

McIlrath has only appeared in four games for the Panthers since getting traded by the Rangers in November — and in three of those games, he logged less than 10 minutes of ice time.

On his conditioning assignment, the 24-year-old played six games for the Springfield Thunderbirds, scoring once with an assist and 13 PIM.

It seems unlikely that the Panthers would make any changes to their lineup after knocking off Columbus, 4-3, on Saturday. They start a four-game road trip tomorrow in Calgary.

McIlrath’s chances of playing may be limited due to the fact he’s a right shot and the Panthers’ back end already has three healthy right shots in Aaron Ekblad, Jason Demers, and Mark Pysyk.

Ekblad, Demers, and Pysyk have each played all 45 games this season. The leading candidate to be scratched is probably Jakub Kindl, a left shot.

So barring an injury, McIlrath may have to sit and wait some more. The Panthers have won four of their last six, and they’re not in a position to mess with success.

Alex Petrovic (ankle) is Florida’s only injured defenseman. Also a right shot, he could be ready to return in early February.

The Bruins are finally ‘starting to connect’ on offense

Boston Bruins' David Krejci (46), of the Czech Republic, celebrates his goal beside Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds (17) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
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The floodgates have opened for the Boston Bruins.

And it’s about time.

With Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Flyers, the B’s have scored 22 goals in their last six games. The offense has been a relative juggernaut compared to the first few months of the season. Brad Marchand had five points against Philadelphia, and he likes the progress the team has made.

“I think early on we had a lot of moving parts and guys in and out of the lineup. [We had] different guys that came in that we all had to get used to one another, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Marchand, per CSN New England. “It took half the year, but…I think we all realized that we have to be a desperate team. We’re starting to come together and learn each other and finally get some chemistry on the lines. All of that comes into play and again, I think we’re just starting to connect.”

The statistics suggested the goals would come. The Bruins have the highest score-adjusted Corsi in the league, but through Christmas, for whatever reason, the pucks weren’t going in.

To illustrate, Patrice Bergeron had just four goals in his first 31 games, and it wasn’t for a lack of shots. He now has five in his last 12, bringing his season total to a modest nine, as the bounces are finally starting to go his way:

To be sure, the Bruins are still in a desperate fight for a playoff spot. They’re currently second in the Atlantic Division, but with five more games played than both third-place Toronto and fourth-place Ottawa, winnable games like this afternoon’s against the Islanders need to be won.

“When you score a couple goals, I guess your confidence goes up a little bit,” said goalie Tuukka Rask. “I think that’s what happened [with us]. So we’ve just got to make sure that we keep it going and don’t take a step back.”

NHL on NBCSN: Capitals visit Penguins, go for 10 in a row

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates with the puck past Trevor Daley #6 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Verizon Center on November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here

Streaks are colliding in Pittsburgh on Monday night when the Penguins host the Washington Capitals.

From the Pittsburgh side, they are looking to break a three-game losing streak (their longest of the season) and will have to do so without the services Kris Letang, their top defensemen, after he was placed on injured reserve on Monday morning. Not exactly a great situation to be in when the team coming in for a visit is a Capitals team that has not only won nine games in a row, but has been absolutely crushing every team they have played during this stretch, including the Penguins less than one week ago.

Even more than the current winning streak, the Capitals are now 16-2-2 in their past 20 games and have moved back into the top spot in the NHL standings and are making a run at a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy.

It has been a collective team effort during this latest run, especially during the current winning streak where five players have averaged more than a point per game, including Justin Williams who has a team-high six goals during the streak.

“Everybody seems to be doing their job at a high level right now, and that’s why we’re being successful,” Williams said after their 5-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, via the Washington Post. “When there’s a breakdown, someone’s there to help you out, and when there’s a total breakdown, our goaltenders are there to shut the door. Not a great start but a great finish.”

The Capitals were able to win Sunday’s game with backup goalie Phillip Grubauer in net — and for the first 40 minutes he had to be their best player — and will be turning back to Braden Holtby tonight. For as good as Holtby was a year ago when he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, he has managed to be even better this season and carries a .933 save percentage into Monday’s game. In 18 starts since the start of December, he has been at an even higher level at .944.

The Penguins meanwhile have hit their first tough stretch of the season, giving up 15 goals over the past three games. The Penguins have not lost four games in a row since a four-game losing streak in December of 2015, which were also the first four games of Mike Sullivan’s head coaching tenure with the the team. Going up against a team that just beat them 5-2 a week ago, and a team that has outscored Columbus, Ottawa, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Philadelphia by a 26-3 margin they have a gigantic test in front of them.