Changes coming for the NHL All-Star Game; team captains to pick sides now

If you’ve found yourself bored to tears over the NHL All-Star Game over the years, chances are you’re not alone. After all, the game itself is basically everything that the NHL isn’t about these days. No one throws a body check, guys don’t really play defense, and it’s essentially shooters versus goalies with a couple of defensemen out there to keep up appearances.

With the GM meetings  going on in Toronto today, former NHL star-turned-league executive Brendan Shanahan says that changes are coming for the mid-season exhibition game and they’re going to be a bit on the radical side as Craig Custance of The Sporting News shares with us.

According to Shanahan, the changes won’t be as drastic as giving the winning team home-ice advantage, like what baseball did with leagues competing in the World Series.

Instead, he’s hoping to tap into the competitive side of the All-Stars more than the exhibition game does now. One idea that has been the subject of speculation would be to have team captains choose sides before the game—like a pickup game. Shanahan declined to confirm that idea when asked by Sporting News.

His biggest hope, he said, is to find a fun way that brings out the competitive side of players seen in every regular-season game.

It’s good to see that they’re staying away from the bogus thing Major League Baseball did with their All-Star Game in “making it count” for home field in the World Series. Trying to force players to care about a game that doesn’t count for anything aside from fan entertainment comes off as phony as it sounds. Also, making home ice in the Stanley Cup finals, for instance, as something to be put up for grabs in an All-Star Game would virtually devalue the regular season.

As for the apparent proposal itself, it’s a fascinating suggestion to do something pond hockey-like to have captains pick their sides for the game. Putting the pressure on the big guns that are voted on by the fans to then have to pick who they want in the game provides some honest intrigue for fans and players alike. Wouldn’t you like to know who Sidney Crosby or Nicklas Lidstrom (if he wasn’t avoiding the game) would pick for their teams? I sure would be interested to see who they’d choose.

(Update: Chris Johnston gets confirmation from the NHL that yes, indeed, captains will be picking sides for the game and it will go into effect starting with this year’s game in Raleigh, North Carolina. Fantastic.)

What they decide to do to make guys want to bust their humps a bit more for the game itself will be fascinating to see. Again, it’s just one exhibition game with no real stakes on the line at all. One suggestion from us to spice things up: Winner take all regarding All-Star bonuses/payouts.

There’s less than zero possibility that this would ever be a possibility, but we know these guys get paid and pulling the curtain off that fact and putting the All-Star Game payouts on the line so winners take home all the cash would at least put something on the line for the guys in the game. Making it something that doesn’t have anything at all to do with screwing with standings or home-ice advantage or the general integrity of the regular season standings would put some life into the game. Besides, what player wouldn’t mind taking home a few extra bucks in the end from their buddies on the opposing team?

Not only would it be bragging rights but it’d give them a chance to dangle something over their heads for a full year. You’d get the best out of the guys on the ice and while it’s still an exhibition you’d at least, ideally, get them to try a bit harder to win the game rather than putz around for two-and-a-half periods then spending the final ten minutes actually trying.

Winter Classic Memories: Syvret’s first NHL goal comes at Fenway Park

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Every Tuesday in December we’ll be looking back at some Winter Classic memories as we approach the 2020 game on Jan. 1 between the Stars and Predators from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.

Danny Syvret was cautious not to get too confident about potentially being in the Philadelphia Flyers’ lineup for the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park. The 2005 third-round pick had spent most of his professional career playing in the American Hockey League, but an opportunity arose that had him eyeing playing in that year’s outdoor game.

By the 2009-10 season, Syvret had only played in 28 NHL games. He found himself up and down between the Flyers’ AHL affiliate in Adirondack, and when Ryan Parent was injured a few days before New Year’s Day playing in the Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins took a big step towards reality. 

But due to life as a regular call up, Syvret wasn’t allowing himself to believe he was going to play. At least not yet. His parents flew in last-minute just in case he was given the opportunity. Yet it wasn’t until the Flyers’ New Year’s Eve practice when he took regular line rushes that belief started to take hold.

Aside from hoping to lock down a regular roster spot on the Flyers, Syvret was also carrying an NHL goalless drought. A scorer during his junior days with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights and the previous season in the AHL when he popped in 12 goals, he had gone 43 NHL games without a goal.

As much as Syvret was focused on staying in the NHL, the drought was definitely on his mind.

“You’re an offensive guy in junior and an offensive guy in the minors and you want to transition that into your NHL game,” Syvret told NBC Sports recently. “And when you’re sitting with a goose egg, it just doesn’t look good. One goal is not much different, but when you’re looking at zero to one versus 12 to 13, it’s a big jump. 

“It weighed on me a little bit, but it’s not like I was trying to go out and score. I wasn’t changing my game. I knew I had to have some sort of offensive output or else my chances to play in the NHL were slowly going to diminish on me.”

While Syvret had a lot on his mind, one person was feeling good about what might happen in the game. The day before the 2010 Winter Classic, Syvret’s friend, NHL photographer Dave Sandford, predicted his pal would break that goose egg the next day on the Fenway Park ice.

Sandford, who took the above photo after the game, would turn out to be prophetic.

Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette included Syvret was in the Flyers’ lineup for the game. Now that he no longer had to wonder about playing, the then 24-year-old made sure to enjoy as much of the experience as possible — from the walk out of the dugout to the scenic view inside the historic baseball stadium to the Stealth Bomber flyover as the teams waited for puck drop in front of 38,112 fans.

Once the game began it was all business, and Syvret would soon add to memories by opening the scoring early in the second period.

Syvret’s first NHL goal nearly came moments before he twirled and fired from the faceoff circle to beat Tim Thomas. As a rebound from a Jeff Carter shot came out to the side boards, the left-handed shot defenseman, who made sure to shoot around an incoming Marc Savard otherwise a three-on-one was likely going the other way, fired a blast that was denied with a two-pad stack from the Bruins netminder.

Why was Thomas down on the ice? Well, Scott Hartnell being Scott Hartnell crashed the net and bumped into Thomas. As the puck squirted out to the circle, which was retrieved by Syvret, Thomas then decided to exact some revenge on the Flyers forward by giving Hartnell a shove. 

The only problem for Thomas was that at that same time Syvret was turning and whipping the puck on target, which would end up in the back of the net for a 1-0 Flyers lead.

“[The first shot] would have been a prettier goal if I would have elevated it a little more so Thomas didn’t make the two-pad stack,” said Syvret, who became the first NHL player to score his first goal in an outdoor game. “But a goal is a goal.”

Syvret had no idea about the Hartnell/Thomas commotion in front and was hoping for a deflection or rebound as he turned and fired the puck. He didn’t even realize Thomas was down on the ice until he saw a replay following the game, which the Bruins would win in in overtime, 2-1.

The goal drought was over and a short-lived streak was about to be born. Two games later Syvret would record his second career NHL goal with a laser during a win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“That was a pretty one. I wish that would have been my first one,” Syvret said with a laugh.

A separated shoulder ended Syvret’s season three games later and he would play only 10 more NHL games in his career. After several years in the AHL, he finished as a professional playing parts of two seasons in Germany. 

Today Syvret works as a financial advisor with Canada Life and will be starting up his own firm in 2020. He also has gotten into coaching youth hockey with former NHLer Jason Williams. The pair lead the AAA Elgin Middlesex Chiefs in Ontario with a team full of OHL hopefuls.

Two years after Syvret’s first NHL goal, another Flyer would record his first outdoors when Brayden Schenn, like Syvret, opened the scoring for the Flyers by beating New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist at Citizen Bank Park during the 2012 Winter Classic.

Almost a decade later, the memories are still there for Syvret, whose first goal holds extra special meaning for him.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play World Juniors, Memorial Cup, and obviously your first NHL game is big,” Syvret said, “but for me, that was probably the biggest NHL game for me because one, it’s outdoor, and two, I scored my first ever goal. 

“Forever I’ll remember playing at Fenway.”

NBC will air the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas, at 2 p.m. ET.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars fire head coach Jim Montgomery ‘due to unprofessional conduct’

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The Dallas Stars made a stunning announcement on Tuesday by firing head coach Jim Montgomery “due to unprofessional conduct.”

Here’s the statement from Stars general manager Jim Nill:

“The Dallas Stars expect all of our employees to act with integrity and exhibit professional behavior while working for and representing our organization. This decision was made due to unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League.”

Nill said during a Tuesday morning press conference that the reason behind the firing was not related to the abuse allegations issues that have come up in hockey and was not in reaction to the four-point plan announced by the NHL during the Board of Governors meeting on Monday. He also added that no current or former Stars players or employees were involved in the “act of unprofessionalism.”

“We approve [of] the NHL in creating this four-point initiative, their plan, but this decision was made before that initiative came out,” said Nill, who noted he had been in contact with the league. “There’s no connection between the two.”

Nill, who said he found out Sunday after receiving a phone call from someone he would not name, wouldn’t divulge details as to what happened with Montgomery, but did say it was not a criminal act and there will be no criminal investigation; it was all done internally.

Montgomery, who has two more years left on his contract, was hired in May 2018 and compiled a 60-43-10 record in parts of two seasons.

Assistant coach Rick Bowness, who was a head coach for five NHL franchises between 1988 and 2003 and was hired as Montgomery’s assistant in June 2018, will take over the role of interim head coach for the rest of the season. Derek Laxdal, who has been serving as head coach of the Stars’ AHL affiliate, will be added to Bowness’ staff.

The Stars currently sit in the first wild card spot in the Western Conference and are only five points out of first place in the Central Division.

“[The players] were very surprised,” Nill said. “I spoke to the team today and they’re very surprised, but we’re very fortunate. We have a good team, we’ve got great leadership and they’re going to get over this. The coaching staff does a great job and they’re going to get over this. It’s a bump in the road and they’re going to digest this and we’ll more forward and go from there.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Eichel looks to keep points streak going vs. Blues

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Buffalo Sabres. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Before the season Jack Eichel talked about the Sabres needing to have consistency, night in and night out, in order to bounce back from a 2018-19 campaign that ended in ugly fashion after beginning so successfully.

The Sabres are still in search of consistency having dropped 13 of their last 19 games after beginning the season 9-2-1. While his teammates have had their struggles, Eichel hasn’t, and has been the most consistent and reliable of any of his Buffalo teammates.

Through 31 games Eichel leads the team with 18 goals and 42 points. He’s currently on pace for 48 goals and 111 points, which is territory a Sabres player has not reached since 1992-93 when Pat LaFontaine and Alex Mogilny had seasons to remember.

Eichel enters Tuesday’s game against the Blues on a 13-game points streak, the longest of his career, and has gone consecutive games without recording a goal or an assist only twice this season. Tim Connolly holds the Sabres franchise record having picked up a point in 16 straight games during the 2009-10 season.

[COVERAGE OF BLUES-SABRES BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

A year ago Eichel hit career highs with 28 goals and 82 points and feels the pressure as captain to lead a turnaround in the Queen City.

“I think it is almost impossible to not feel it,” Eichel, the NHL’s Third Star of the Week, told NBC Sports before the season. “I think with the drought our franchise has been in and the ups and downs we’ve went through and being a high pick and coming in with a lot of these new young players like Rasmus [Dahlin], I think that we feel pressured to perform and bring success to Buffalo. It can be tough at times for sure, but sometimes it brings out the best of you and brings out that competitive side.”

How much of an influence has Eichel’s offensive prowess meant to the Sabres? Half of his 42 points have helped the team tie or take the lead.

“I think more than anything he’s now a leader who understands that sometimes it’s quality over quantity, and he can still concentrate on his game,” said head coach Ralph Krueger. “He’s just been a very natural captain, he’s enjoying it, he’s communicating in a really good, consistent way and he’s very positive in his influence on the team whether we’ve had a good day or a bad, and that’s what we need to continue.”

What’s working for Eichel? It’s the quality of shots he’s taking, not the quantity. His shots per game average is slightly down this season (3.58) from his career average (3.62) and from last season (3.98). The shots are going in as his shooting percentage has risen to 16.2% this season compared to 9.2% in 2018-19.

“I’ve been kind of shooting low,” Eichel said last week via the Sabres website. “I feel like in the past, I’ve had a lot of opportunities and just passed them by just missing the net. … You try and go high and miss the net, you don’t give yourself a chance to score or maybe someone else a chance to score. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Just trying to shoot different places, I think, and knowing that sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you get it off. It’s just about surprising the goalie.”

Kathryn Tappen will host Tuesday night’s studio coverage alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones. Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will call the action from KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Ovechkin on Russia Olympic ban; tough times in Hockeytown

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Alex Ovechkin on the Russia Olympic ban: “It’s always disappointing to hear something like that. I hope everything’s going to be well. We still have a long time ‘til the Olympics to figure out what to do. What’s better to do. Hope everything’s going to be fine.” [Washington Post]

• USA Hockey named on Monday 28 players to the preliminary roster of its entry for the 2020 World Junior Championship. [USA Hockey]

• As the Senators continue their rebuild, Brady Tkachuk is front and center. [Ottawa Sun]

• Does Taylor Hall fit with the Islanders’ needs? [Gotham Sports Network]

• Things are going not so good in Hockeytown. [TSN]

• The proposed reshaping of the NBA schedule is something the NHL should be thinking about as well. [Featurd]

• Jordan Kyrou, who’s been nearly a point-per-game player in the AHL this season, has been called up by the St. Louis Blues. [Post-Dispatch]

• How a small dip in production for Claude Giroux means good things for the Flyers. [Broad Street Hockey]

• Neal Henderson, head of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, North America’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program, will become the first African-American to be enshrined in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame this week. [NHL.com]

• Can the Lightning’s issues this season be placed at the feet of Jon Cooper? [Raw Charge]

• Finally, meet Evan Yasser, a Devils fan on the autism spectrum who you might hear calling games some day:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.