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NHL’s new concussion protocol goes into effect tonight and what that means from here on out

During this week’s GM meetings in Florida we’ve been keeping tabs on what the NHL is looking to do to help remedy the rash of concussions and head injuries in the league. Gary Bettman proposed a five point plan for teams to do their part to help treat players during the game and potentially save them the trouble of being injured further when no symptoms are apparent.

Today we learn from Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika (via Predators GM David Poile) that the new treatment protocol will go into effect beginning with tonight’s games across the league. That means if a player has suffered an apparent concussion or head injury they must go back to the locker room and be treated by a doctor to see if they have, indeed, suffered a concussion.

It’s a forward step for the league in trying to do something about an issue that’s been plaguing the league for various different reasons the last few seasons. Without a doubt the speed of the game is causing problems and there’s not much the league can do about that without relaxing the rules on obstruction and threatening the return of the dead puck era.

The one thing they can control is the medical treatment side of things and that’s what they’ve zeroed in on. Being more efficient with such matters would help. After all, we saw both Ian Laperriere and Marc Savard return relatively quickly during the playoffs from brutal concussions. Savard suffered his hit in March and returned for the Bruins series against Philadelphia. He admitted after the season was over that he may have come back too soon.

Laperriere was struck in the face with a slap shot during the Flyers opening round series against New Jersey yet still found a way to return to action in the Stanley Cup final. Laperriere also admitted to coming back too soon and won’t play at all this season thanks to lingering post-concussion syndrome effects.

Of course, if the NHL wants things to be taken serious they need to be firm about what they’re doing. So many of the NHL’s new rules and regulations are often enforced right away and for a year or two and then seemingly forgotten about. The Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika wrote a scathing piece today reminding us about how the league can let things slip away in the wake of making a big stand (subscription required). Brad Richards in particular comes into focus after dealing with a concussion suffered thanks to a Sami Pahlsson elbow.

And that is at the heart of Richards’ issue right now. If you and I can readily see a replay of an incident that should not be in hockey, then why isn’t something being done about it? Richards’ experience is personal, and it can come off as whining a bit because really nobody did a thing about it. He was hit in the jaw by an elbow on what appeared to be an innocuous play at the end of a game. Richards understands that officials wouldn’t have seen it. He understands that “things happen.”

What he doesn’t understand is how the man who threw that elbow — Columbus center Sami Pahlsson — didn’t at least get a memo from the league complete with a video of the incident sent to his I-phone saying it was wrong. There are rules against those kinds of hits. So …. shouldn’t something have been done about it?

Now, there are penalties missed in every game. There’s no way to call games at top speed and expect to get everything right. But we’re not worried about the outcome of a game here, we’re worried about the health of a league. To understand Richards’ situation, you have to understand where he has been for the past month.

Richards is right and the NHL can be better in handling these things. They can certainly be better about handling punishment and keeping things shrouded in secrecy does no one any favors. Of course, the league seems to always operate in secrecy in hopes that sometimes things will resolve themselves and go away.

In 2003 the NHL was going to take a major stand on diving and punish those busted for diving in games. Similar hot button topic decrees have come and gone by the wayside. We’ve seen obstruction find its way back into the game now since the lockout after seeing it called repeatedly for the two years following that. Being cynical about how the NHL is handling this issue is warranted as they’ve never really shown the ability to hold strong to such matters in the past. Don’t get us started about the NHL’s ability to punish players in a manner that makes sense.

On the positive side of things, if the NHL can adapt to this and make it work it’s a win over the long haul. There’s going to be bumps in the road to start and there’s surely going to be further controversy. Just wait until a star player has to sit out a crucial point of the game for 15 minutes while he’s treated and examined further and the head coach seethes over not being able to have him on the ice. Hopefully that won’t happen and players will be able to avoid more problems, but with how things have gone this season don’t bet on it.

League clears up 2020 NHL Playoffs picture, including re-seeding

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The NHL and NHLPA agreed to some key details to how the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will operate … assuming the playoffs can happen. We now know how the league will handle the Round Robin for Seeding, Qualifying Round, all the way to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Before we go round by round, note that the biggest takeaways are that the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will involve re-seeding (not bracketing) and that every round will include a best-of-seven series after the Qualifying Round/Round Robin for Seeding.

In other words, if this all comes to pass, prepare for a lot of hockey.

How the NHL Playoffs will work through 2020 Stanley Cup Final

Let’s review what we know so far.

Qualifying Round; Round Robin for Seeding

  • As announced earlier, each Qualifying Round (four per conference) series will go by a best-of-five format. Read more about that format here.
  • Johnston reports that the Round Robin for Seeding will involve three games each per team. Points percentage will serve as a tiebreaker if needed during the Round Robin for Seeding.

It was first believed that teams who won Qualifying Round series would face specific opponents based on bracketing. Instead, re-seeding means that the highest seeds will face the lowest seeds all the way down to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Here’s how “home ice” will work out, via the NHL:

* In the Qualifying Round, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2 and 5. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3 and 4.

2020 NHL Playoffs: First Round through the 2020 Stanley Cup Final

To reiterate, following the Qualifying Round (best-of-five) and Round Robin for Seeding (three games apiece), each series will be a best-of-seven, with re-seeding. It might be easier to see how it flows this way, then:

  • Qualifying Round (best-of-five series, four series per conference); Round Robin for Seeding (three games apiece, top four teams in each conference involved). Re-seeding instead of bracketing.
  • First Round (best-of-seven series, four series per conference). Teams re-seed after First Round.
  • Second Round (best-of-seven series, two series per conference). Teams re-seed after Second Round.
  • 2020 Eastern Conference Final (best-of-seven series) and 2020 Western Conference Final (best-of-seven series).

Via the NHL, here’s how “home-ice” will play out before the 2020 Stanley Cup Final:

* In the First Round, Second Round and Conference Finals, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6.

  • 2020 Stanley Cup Final (best-of-seven series).

Finally, the league shared this “home-ice” info for the 2020 Stanley Cup Final:

* In the Stanley Cup Final, the team with the higher regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The team with the lower regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6

NHL, NHLPA opt for more hockey approach

Before Thursday, some expected that the First Round, and possibly the Second Round, might instead be best-of-five series. Instead, the NHL and NHLPA opted to go longer.

Johnston captures the risk part of that risk-reward scenario quite well, noting that two extra best-of-seven rounds could add nine days to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that the playoff tournament could last as long as 68 days. That requires some big gambles that COVID-19 cases won’t spike to the point that the NHL needs to go on “pause” once more.

If it all works out, then the “integrity” of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs is definitely emphasized. (Also, more best-of-seven series definitely strengthens the “toughest ever” arguments.) Few can credibly say they’ve been robbed of a real chance, given that 24 teams are involved.

We’ll have to wait and see if it’s all worth it, and if the NHL can actually pull this off. Personally, re-seeding seems fair if it doesn’t lead to additional travel, while the bevy best-of-seven series seems dicey.

Naturally, the NHL and NHLPA still need to hash out other details.

MORE ON NHL RETURN TO PLAY:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins player tested positive for COVID-19, now recovered

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The Penguins announced on Thursday that one of their players had tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the team, the unidentified player “is recovered and feeling well.” Anyone who came into close contact with him has been notified.

So far, nine NHL players have tested positive for COVID-19, including five from the Senators and three from the Avalanche.

It is expected that the NHL will announce its Phase 2 plans this week. That will allow for players to workout in small voluntary groups at team facilities. Training camps are still expected to open in mid-July.

As players get set for Phase 2, the league will have strict screening protocols in place.

“We will have a rigorous daily testing protocol where players are tested every evening and those results are obtained before they would leave their hotel rooms the next morning, so we’ll know if we have a positive test and whether the player has to self-quarantine himself as a result of that positive test,” said Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “It’s expensive, but we think it’s really a foundational element of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

“You need testing at a level sufficient to be confident that you’re going to be on top of anything which might happen,” said NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr. “If that turns out to be daily, and that’s available, that’s OK. That would be good. If it turns out that that’s not quite what we need and we can get by with a little less, that’s OK.”

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

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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.

Alabama-Huntsville coach steps down one week after program is saved

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A week after a $500,000 fundraising goal was met to save the program, Alabama-Huntsville hockey coach Mike Corbett has resigned.

The announcement was made on Wednesday, with assistant coach Gavin Morgan joining Corbett in leaving the program. Assistant Lance West will take on the role of acting head coach.

“I want to thank all of you for your support and supporting the players during this time,” Corbett wrote in an email to supporters obtained by WZDX. “It meant a lot to me and them. I wish things were different and the results were better, I truly do. I own that. I will not make excuses and I will tell you I came to work everyday and put everything I had into it. Not always making the right decisions, but doing what I thought was right for the program every day. Myself and my staff embraced it and fought the good fight every day. Only we know how that was and it was difficult but continued to put the program and the players first.”

The Chargers were 2-26-6 this past season, the seventh with Corbett in charge.

According to Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News, Corbett faced plenty of obstacles at the school.

According to insiders, Corbett wanted to leave on his own terms. The coach had led the Chargers for seven seasons and dealt with a lot of challenges, from a lack of recruiting money to the loss of a conference when seven WCHA schools announced they would be leaving Alabama-Huntsville and the two Alaska schools behind to form a new CCHA in 2021-22.

On May 22 UAH announced it was cutting its hockey and tennis programs, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporters and alumni, including Flames goalie Cam Talbot, backed a fundraising campaign that saw the goal reached before Friday’s deadline. The school then approved a $1.5 million budget for next season.

There is no guarantee beyond 2020-21 that the program will keep playing, but there is now time to create a sustainable, long-term plan.

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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: Golden Knights’ empire; Senators’ youth to lead the way

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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.

• Playing games in arenas with no fans could lead to TV networks getting creative covering the NHL’s Return to Play games. [Edmonton Journal]

• On NHL GMs and their reactions to the league’s Return to Play format. [Toronto Star]

• With the announcement of an AHL team coming to Henderson, Nevada, the Golden Knights are building an empire out west. [The Hockey News]

• It’s looking like the Palm Springs AHL team will be called the Firebirds. [SportsLogos.net]

• The Senators’ youth will need to lead the franchise’s revival. [Ottawa Citizen]

• How LTIR can play a role in aiding the Canucks. [Canucks Army]

• On the lessons the Sharks can learn from the last time they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. [NBC Sports Bay Area]

• What a full season in the AHL could do for Habs’ youngster Ryan Poehling. [A Winning Habit]

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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.