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.

Yes, NHL will share protected, available player lists for expansion draft

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We can debate all day how much the NHL, Vegas Golden Knights and others involved really want to do this, but they’re making the right choice with the expansion draft nonetheless. The league will make protected and available players lists available at the same time they’re shared with teams, according to NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika.

(The NHL tweeted out as much, too.)

Could this lead to feelings being hurt or perhaps even certain sneaky deals being scuttled? Perhaps, but those are headaches that management should be expected to absorb.

The bottom line is that an expansion draft is a dream come true for armchair GMs, rumor enthusiasts, fantasy sports fans and … really, just about anyone interested in hockey. It would be a bewildering decision to try to keep all of this information locked down, even for a league that frequently garners a reputation for choosing comfort over entertainment value.

Cotsonika reports that such lists will probably be made available on June 18, though that isn’t set in stone.

(If you’re the type to take off work if a trade deadline was exciting, you might want to start drumming up excuses/putting aside vacation time/practicing your best “I’m sick” voice just in case …)

Cap Friendly provides a handy timeline for the expansion draft process:

Goalie nods: Blues give Hutton first start in two weeks

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Even though Jake Allen has played extremely well of late, Carter Hutton will get the call when the Blues take on the Coyotes in Arizona tonight.

Some of this could have to do with the opponent. The Coyotes are playing out the string on a forgettable campaign, and have lost six of their last seven. That includes a 4-1 defeat in St. Louis on Monday (in which Allen stopped 27 of 28 shots for the win).

As mentioned above, Allen has been great in March and deserves huge praise for turning his season around. He’s gone 8-1-1 this month with a remarkable .951 save percentage, allowing a mere 14 goals over his 10 appearances.

Hutton, though, has played equally well when called upon. He’s gone 4-1-0 over his last five starts, posting a .962 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. In his last outing, on Mar. 16, he allowed just one goal in a victory in San Jose.

For the Coyotes, Louis Domingue is in goal.

Elsewhere…

— A good matchup in Pittsburgh tonight, as the two defending Stanley Cup champions go head-to-head. Marc-Andre Fleury starts for the Penguins, while Corey Crawford goes for the Blackhawks.

— Calgary can clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight so, unsurprisingly, it’ll go with No. 1 Brian Elliott. No word yet on who starts for the visiting Kings, though it could be Ben Bishop after Jonathan Quick lost last night in Edmonton.

Philipp Grubauer gets the call for Washington, after Braden Holtby led the Caps to victory in Minnesota on Tuesday. Grubauer will take on Calvin Pickard, who starts for the Avs.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

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Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.

 

Pre-game reading: Tonight’s Kings-Flames game could get testy

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— Up top, the Calgary Flames don’t want Matthew Tkachuk to play any differently — even though Drew Doughty called the rookie winger a “pretty dirty player” after taking the 19-year-old’s elbow to the face earlier this month.

— Tkachuk was suspended two games for that elbow. Still, there could be fireworks tonight when the Flames and the Kings meet again in Calgary. Especially after Tkachuk replied to Doughty’s remarks with the following: “I expected more from him, honestly, than to go right to the media and start complaining after a loss.” (Calgary Sun)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless thinks Sergei Bobrovsky should win the Hart Trophy over Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Lawless writes: “No other player has been as important to his team and its results as Bobrovsky has to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Take Bobrovsky off the C-bus and it’s not necessarily in the ditch but it isn’t nipping at the Capitals for the league lead.” (TSN)

— Coyotes captain Shane Doan is understandably frustrated about the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup the past six games. At 40, this could be Doan’s last year in the NHL, so hopefully he’s able to return and play at least once more in front of all his fans. (Arizona Republic)

— Golden Knights owner Bill Foley doesn’t want each team’s protected list to be made public ahead of the expansion draft. That being said, Foley is also realistic: “I’d rather we know what each team has left unprotected and we make our picks and it’s a big surprise. I think there’s going to be a lot of leaks, though. I found one thing about the NHL that … everyone talks.” (Yahoo)

— An appreciation of the Detroit Red Wings playoff streak, which will finally come to an end this season. The last time the Wings missed was 1990. As noted by Nick Cotsonika: “No player in the NHL today was in the NHL then, not even Jaromir Jagr. Nine of the franchises in the NHL today weren’t in the NHL, 10 if you include the Vegas Golden Knights, who begin play next season.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!