Mike Murphy consulted with Brian Burke before issuing Rome’s 4-game suspension

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Over the last 24 hours, plenty has been made of Aaron Rome’s devastating hit that sent Boston Bruins’ forward Nathan Horton to the hospital with a “severe concussion.” There were those who said Horton should have been skating with his head up and there were plenty more who thought this was a cheap shot on the NHL’s biggest stage. Regardless, all fans looked to the league’s disciplinarian to see how they’d react to such a devastating hit that crossed the line of legality. The answer was harsh and swift: 4-game suspension and a seat in the press box for the rest of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Mike Murphy was asked plenty of questions about the 4-game suspension to Aaron Rome. One of the more interesting questions posed at the press conference was if there was some kind of formula when suspending players in the regular season vs. postseason.

Murphy’s response:

I wish there was a number (equating playoff games to regular season games). There’s not. You have to feel that. I know in the past when we had a playoff suspension, I remember the Pronger elbow going back, the Lemieux hit going on, that was two, Pronger was one. I spoke to the gentleman who issued the two. Wanted his formula, talked to him about it. I’m talking about Brian Burke. I don’t like to mention people who I deal with. He was one gentleman who I did speak with.”

This seems like a well thought out way to deal with a difficult situation, right? Murphy’s only in charge of this series because Colin Campbell can’t rule on games involving his son Gregory; next season Brendan Shanahan is taking over the reigns as it is. Murphy is a placeholder. He wanted to get it right, so he asked someone who used to hold the position. He used a valuable resource that was at his disposal.

Unfortunately, there’s much more just beneath the surface to this story. His honest answer certainly caught the attention of the Canucks, not because they are upset with the length of the suspension (which they are), but because of the resource Murphy consulted. You see, Brian Burke isn’t as far removed from the situation as one may think.

Matthew Sekeres from The Globe and Mail gives us a quick history lesson:

“Burke’s contract with the Canucks was not renewed after the 2003-04 season, and he is friends with Aquilini business rivals who unsuccessfully sued the Canucks chairman in 2005.

In 2009, the Canucks filed tampering charges with the NHL after Burke and Leafs coach Ron Wilson made public comments about Canucks players. The league fined the Leafs in October 2009, based on Wilson’s remarks that his team was interested in the Sedin twins, who were approaching free agency that summer. Burke later admitted that he regretted mentioning the players by name.”

From a Canucks’ perspective, here’s what they see: the NHL just handed down a stiff suspension (that they don’t agree with) and came to their judgment by asking one of their former employees that they’ve had continuing problems with. Losing Rome means their defensive corps takes another shot, days after learning that Dan Hamhuis won’t return for the rest of the series. No matter where you’re rooting interests lie, it doesn’t look good.

Repeatedly, the NHL has encountered claims that there are conflicts of interest at the league level. One of the reasons Colin Campbell recently stepped down from this very job is because he has a son in the league. This probably isn’t the kind of scene they wanted to start the post-Campbell era—yet another controversy with yet another conflict of interest.

To be clear, there’s no reason to think that Mike Murphy wouldn’t have come up with the same judgment without consulting with Brian Burke. The majority of people seem to think the suspension is more than they thought it would be—but they agree that it was a good message to send to get this type of hit out of the game. People are surprised, but the majority of people outside of Vancouver aren’t upset with the ruling. It’s an important difference to make.

Rome didn’t get a 4-game suspension because Mike Murphy talked to Brian Burke. He got the suspension because he hit Nathan Horton with a late cheap shot that the NHL has been trying to get rid of the game all season.

PHT Morning Skate: McDavid on Return to Play; Parise on Canucks

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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.

• The NHL released a statement in regards to the protests around the U.S. following the death of George Floyd last week in Minnesota: “In our own sport, we will continue to do better and work diligently toward culture change throughout hockey and endeavour to be mindful of our own shortcomings in this process.”  [NHL.com]

Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, P.K. Subban and Connor Carrick were among the NHL to give their thoughts. [RMNB]

Connor McDavid on the 24-team Return to Play format: “We were trying to get the format in place first and we’ve got that, so now I think those (other) are questions that start to need answers. The safety of our players and of everyone involved is paramount and that’s the main issue that’s got to get solved right now. I think that’s what needs to be answered before anything happens and we move forward.” [Sporting News]

• “While last week was an important step toward returning to the ice for the NHL/NHLPA-approved 24-team playoff format, it was still only a small one when it comes to actually getting there.” [Winnipeg Sun]

• On the status of Kirill Kaprizov, Alexander Romanov and others: “So we can tell you the union stridently opposes the NHL’s stance that teams should not be permitted to sign players from their respective reserve lists to 2019-20 contracts so they can participate in the tournament. It is the union’s position, and a quite reasonable one, that the matter should revert to the status quo if the sides do not agree to changing the CBA regulation that is in force.” [NY Post]

Zach Parise talks the Wild’s season, Dean Evason and the Canucks. [TSN]

• Steve Yzerman has given the Red Wings’ youngsters the job of keeping the rebuild intact. [NHL.com]

• Angela Ruggiero, one of the coaches of the 3ICE league, speaks out on the lack of women behind benches and in the executive suites of NHL teams. [ESPN]

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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.

James van Riemsdyk on fatherhood, Flyers/NHL returning, and more

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Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk took a moment out of his day/put his car in park to chat with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live” on Friday. You can watch the full video above this post’s headline.

JVR didn’t do much to peel back the curtain on return-to-play issues, but he provided some useful information nonetheless.

  • Maybe most relevantly, JVR told Tirico that he’ll be close to 100 percent if the Flyers actually get to return to play. Van Riemsdyk injured his finger back in March.

JVR and Tirico didn’t really go into this, but the 31-year-old winger was heating up toward the end of 2019-20. Things didn’t start that smoothly, as Van Riemsdyk only managed five goals and 11 points through his first 17 games. Considering the $7M per year investment the Flyers made, JVR probably heard some grumbles.

But he played some of his best hockey with a still-fairly-new team before the injury and the pandemic struck. JVR scored 29 of his season’s 40 points (and 14 of his 19 goals) through the last 39 games. An updated version of Bill Comeau’s SKATR chart captures how much better JVR has been overall in 2019-20 after a disappointing return season with Philly:

JVR SKATR
via Bill Comeau

As disruptive as the pandemic has been, it had to be nice for JVR to be there for such a life event. An eager Tirico also learned that JVR’s child already has Gritty slippers.

(Please send Gritty slippers. I’m already quite googly-eyed from quarantining, anyway. At least my belly button doesn’t change colors [yet] though.)

  • He didn’t elaborate much, but JVR hinted that players prefer reseeding over a bracketed playoff format.

Really, though, the low-fi nature of the video pushes it to another level. Few things humanize a person quite like doing an interview in a parking lot. (Been there, JVR, been there. Kind of.)

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.

USA Hockey president Jim Smith facing investigations

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — USA Hockey president Jim Smith is the subject of two investigations surrounding his tenure as the president of Amateur Hockey Association Illinois.

USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer confirmed Friday that the organization has hired an independent investigator to look into Smith’s business dealings with AHAI. Fischer also said the US Center for SafeSport is investigating allegations that Smith was aware of sexual misconduct by a coach and didn’t take action against him during Smith’s tenure with AHAI.

The Athletic first reported on the two investigations.

Fischer said the US Center for SafeSport’s investigation is regarding allegations that were made against Thomas Adrahtas, a youth hockey coach. The Athletic reported in February that multiple players said Adrahtas had abused them.

The US Center for SafeSport said in a statement that ”consistent with best practices and federal law, the Center does not discuss matters to protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of the parties and any potential witnesses.”

Smith couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. He told The Athletic through a spokesperson earlier this month that ”in my time as president of AHAI, there were no reports alleging misconduct by Tom Adrahtas.”

Founded in 1937, USA Hockey is an organization focused on the support and development of grass-roots hockey programs. Smith was unanimously elected as president by the organization’s board of directors in 2015. He was unanimously re-elected in 2018.

Ducks’ offensive woes extend to rare 2-year playoff drought

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The last time the Anaheim Ducks missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, they went all the way to their franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final just one year later.

Not many observers expect the current Ducks to duplicate the feats of those beloved 2002-03 Mighty Ducks after they complete another long offseason made even longer by the coronavirus pandemic.

These Ducks are still in full rebuilding mode after winning just 29 of their 71 games this season, including a Western Conference-worst 24 non-shootout victories. The Ducks were in sixth place in the Pacific Division standings primarily on the sturdy strength of goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller, who bailed out their teammates all winter long.

Just three years after the Ducks reached the conference finals for the second time in three seasons, a long road back to Cup contention appears to loom in Orange County. Anaheim got largely disappointing performances from its collection of forwards – a star-free group outside captain Ryan Getzlaf – and the blue line was inconsistent while coach Dallas Eakins worked young talent into the lineup amid injuries and trade departures.

But during a second straight season without a playoff appearance – matching their total playoff-less seasons over the previous 13 years combined – Eakins and general manager Bob Murray saw signs of the team they want the Ducks to become. They’ll have an extra-long offseason to contemplate the next steps to get there.

”While we would have preferred to conclude our season normally and play 82 games, it became obvious over time that was not practical,” Murray said this week. ”We remain excited about our future and can’t wait for the 2020-21 season.”

SELDOM SCORING

Perhaps appropriately for a team with a long-standing reputation as an intimidating, defense-first organization, the Ducks’ biggest problems during their two-year playoff drought have been all about offense. Eakins was hired last summer to implement a speed-based system designed to produce more scoring opportunities, but it’s just not happening yet.

One season after Anaheim finished last in the NHL in goals, its minus-39 goal differential this season was the conference’s worst. Anaheim scored two or fewer regulation goals in a whopping 39 of its 71 games. Only Adam Henrique (26 goals) and Jakob Silfverberg (21) found the net with any frequency.

The Ducks’ problems ranged from Rickard Rakell‘s two-year regression to the disappointing numbers from youngsters who weren’t ready to produce at the highest level. Murray also curiously gave up on Ondrej Kase and Daniel Sprong in February, trading two young forwards with clear NHL-caliber scoring ability when they didn’t produce enough for his liking.

IN THE CREASE

Gibson and Miller didn’t post impressive statistics, but anybody who watched these Ducks knew their most valuable players were between the pipes. Gibson’s game has grown and matured even while his team has regressed, and the 39-year-old Miller still shows no drop-off in his abilities. If Miller decides to return for another NHL season, he’ll have the chance to pass Dominik Hasek on the NHL’s career victories list – and the Ducks won’t have to worry about this vital position for another year.

DROP THE BALLS

The Ducks have an 8.5% chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL’s complicated draft lottery. Anaheim hasn’t had a top-five draft pick since 2005, when it snagged Bobby Ryan with the second overall choice. Murray and his scouting department have a long history of finding impressive talent outside the first round, but they’ll likely have the opportunity to choose a game-changing star this summer for the first time. The Ducks also have Boston’s first-round pick from their trade of Kase.

DARK BLUE LINE

Anaheim’s collection of defensemen appears to be thoroughly average, and none seems likely to get much better. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are solid pros, but they’re likely past the points in their development where they could become stars. The Ducks could use an injection of game-changing talent on the blue line.

GETTING BUCKETS

Linemates Henrique and Silfverberg bucked their team’s offensive struggles with a pair of impressive seasons, and they’ll be a foundation of the rebuilding effort. Henrique was particularly productive, leading the roster with 43 points. They’re both locked into long-term contracts.

GETZ BACK

The 35-year-old Getzlaf will head into the final season of his contract later this year when he begins his 16th season with Anaheim. The playmaker still racked up 29 assists this season despite finishing the year on a line with Danton Heinen and Sonny Milano, two 24-year-old recent additions with a combined 59 career NHL goals. It’s a long way down from his heyday with Corey Perry, but Getzlaf appears eager to keep working on the Ducks’ rebuilding project.