PHT chats with Patrick Burke, who can’t stand ‘lazy criticism’ of the Department of Player Safety

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You may remember Patrick Burke from such hit shows as “Raffi Torres is not going to play hockey for a while” and “Sorry everyone, we couldn’t find reason to suspend Zac Rinaldo, maybe next time.”

Burke is a director in the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Formed in 2011, with the mandate of administering supplemental discipline, the DOPS was originally headed by Brendan Shanahan. It’s now led by Stephane Quintal. Another familiar name to hockey fans, Chris Pronger, was hired as a director in 2014.

The following is a transcript of an email conversation I had this week with Burke. I wanted to know about the frustrations of the position, and what it was like to make decisions that can’t possibly please everyone.

To get things started, I asked about a recent DOPS decision that did not please me.

JB: It’s an old blogger adage that you lead with a guy getting speared in the groin. Brandon Prust was only fined $5,000 for what he did to Brad Marchand. He called it the best money he’s ever spent. Is the DOPS bound by the general managers’ belief that plays like that aren’t worthy of a suspension? I just don’t think it’s a very good look for the league when Prust is left joking about spearing a guy in the groin, even though Marchand wasn’t hurt, and even though it was, you know…Brad Marchand.

PB: At the end of the day, our department has the final say over individual decisions regarding supplemental discipline. That said, we regularly look to the GMs for guidance on what is happening in the game. I think when our department begins noticing trends, it’s important for us to research what is happening, document what we are seeing, then presenting this information to the GMs to ask how big of an issue this trend is for our league. How many stick fouls are we seeing? How severe are they? How often are players getting injured on these plays, and how severely? The GMs provide us with their feedback and we go from there. I suspect that recent incidents may have increased the desire of the hockey world to see stick fouls punished more severely. If that’s the case, we certainly have no hesitation to increase the punishment going forward.

JB: Marchand wasn’t seriously hurt on the play, but one player who was injured earlier this season was Sean Couturier, on a hit by Zac Rinaldo. In the video explaining why Rinaldo wasn’t suspended, you noted that you supported the referee’s decision to give Rinaldo a charging major, but then you ruled that the hit was not worthy of a suspension. I think this confused a lot of fans. If Rinaldo broke the rules and Couturier was injured, how was there no supplemental discipline?

PB: Well, I’ll preface this by saying our department doesn’t oversee officiating. Stephen Walkom does an unreal job at that. And our officials have the single hardest job in sports, and are unequivocally the best in the world. I am in awe of what they’re able to do on a nightly basis.

Our department is different. We have replay. We have slow motion. We have ten angles. We have hours, often days, to make our decisions. Referees have to make them in a fraction of a second. We are in an office in New York. They are on the ice with the players in that moment. They’re in charge of policing that particular game in that moment. We don’t know what’s being said on the ice. We don’t know if a player has been warned ten times to calm down. We don’t know if the referee was concerned about a game getting out of hand.

So, when we make a video that seemingly contradicts one of their decisions, it is important to us as a department to make it clear that we support our officials unequivocally. I don’t think there’s anything logically inconsistent in essentially stating, “We completely support our official making this call in that moment. That said, it’s now 48 hours later. I have zoomed in from three different angles and watched the hit 50 times in slow motion. With the benefit of added technology, we can determine that a suspension is not appropriate on this play.”

JB: Right, so “support” doesn’t ultimately mean “agree with.” While I still think that has the potential to cause confusion, I get where you’re coming from. And I agree, refs have a tough job. We all rip players for things like turning pucks over at the blue line, but then we expect officials to be perfect.

With that in mind, I want to let you vent a bit now. Your department receives a ton of criticism. That’s to be expected, but what type of criticism bothers you the most? (And you can’t say that none of it bothers you because you’re a Burke and that’s not how a Burke rolls.)

PB: I wrote about five drafts to this response and each time a little shoulder angel of John Dellapina (the NHL’s senior director of public relations) appeared and went, “You can’t say that. Or that. Definitely not that.”

Lazy criticism bothers me. That’s it. I don’t mind when people disagree with us — hell, we regularly disagree internally. We have screaming arguments about whether something is worthy of two games or three. So, “Wow, I didn’t think that was suspension-worthy” or “They only fined him, but I think it was worth one game” isn’t criticism that bothers me at all. There was probably someone in our ten-person department who felt the same way.

But, if you are a media member covering a team on a regular basis, you have a duty to know what you’re talking about. Unfortunately, there’s a good-sized contingent of media right now that has no interest in being informed or accurate. It’s about being the most retweeted, the snarkiest, having the hottest take on a play. It’s very easy to stoke fan emotion and get the outrage going.

I think good media members have an understanding of NHL rules and how they’re applied. Even when they disagree with our decisions they’re able to articulate the thought process, analyze the play intelligently, and then disagree.

Then there’s the group that sees a hit and rushes to tweet, “CLEAR ELBOW BY JOHN DOE BET DOPS SCREWS THIS ONE UP TOO.” They yell about our incompetence as they incorrectly apply an NHL rule; they’re calling us lazy as we’re already in the process of reviewing ten plays; they’re calling us biased while painting their player as a kindhearted superstar who loves to adopt puppies and the opponent as a brutal monster with no place in the game. It’s constant, it’s hypocritical, and it’s tiring. You’re entitled to your own opinions. You aren’t entitled to your own facts.

We are, by FAR, the most accessible and open of all the disciplinary groups in sports. On a daily basis we speak to media members to clarify, explain, teach, or discuss plays, rules, and decisions. Not just the Bob McKenzies and Elliotte Friedmans of the world either. We regularly speak with local beat reporters. We invite media to come tour our room and see us in action. We provide videos explaining our decisions and our controversial non-decisions. We even have educational videos on our website that explain our standards for hits. Everyone in hockey has the direct email to NHL PR, and most media people have a direct line to either myself, Stephane Quintal, Damian Echevarrieta, or Chris Pronger.

Damian and I spend half our night texting with people to keep them informed. Hell, I’ll regularly text with local bloggers just to give them clarification on something they may not understand. I think we’ve removed every excuse the media has for not being informed, and yet there’s still a significant portion of them remaining willfully ignorant out of laziness or lack of professionalism.

So, disagree with our decisions all you like. Dislike us on a personal level (Prongs and I are used to that). But if you’re calling yourself media, don’t act like a drunken fan.

JB: Confirmed: You’re a Burke. I look forward to seeing the evolution of your hair.

Speaking of your father — and I’ve wondered about this before — in today’s NHL, how many games would Pavel Bure get for his elbow on Shane Churla? Your father was in charge of discipline when that occurred during the 1994 playoffs. He didn’t suspend Bure. He only fined him $500.

PB: I’d have to go back and review the factors surrounding it to give an exact game number. I seem to recall they had an ongoing battle during the series itself. That could elevate it, as could injury or history. But yeah, based on my recollection of the play, it’s a fairly easy suspension in the modern DOPS era. Not to oversimplify it, but you can’t do that.

By the way, I was only 11 in 1994, so $500 actually seemed like an absurdly punitive punishment to me at the time.

JB: I grew up a Canucks fan, so I thought a $500 fine was perfectly appropriate. The Aaron Rome suspension, on the other hand….but that was right before the DOPS was formed, so we won’t go there.

PB: You answer one of my questions now. If you could change one thing about how the DOPS operates, what would it be?

JB: Hmmm. OK, as a media guy, it might be helpful to have some sort of checklist that outlines all the criteria that need to be met for a play to be worthy of a suspension. Just something we can reference whenever there’s a close call. Kinda like Sean McIndoe’s flowchart, which I’ve always found to be quite helpful, though I’m not sure it’s officially endorsed by the league.

PB: I think the difficult part of doing that is that it’s so difficult to account for gray-area elements of a play — like, say, level of force — in a description. That’s why we’ve favored videos showing multiple examples rather than a strict flowchart.

Intent is just such a gray area. There’s a women’s hockey play under review right now where a player shoved another into an open door. Did she intend to shove her? Clearly. Did she intend to shove her into an open gate? Probably not. And even if she did, it’d be tough to prove it. How does that fit into a flowchart?

The truth is we see thousands of plays and none of them are identical. Having a strict flowchart has been discussed, but it simply doesn’t work. How do you flowchart “reckless” or “intentional” in a way where it applies to every play?

JB: Sure, sure. You just don’t want to paint yourself into any corners. That way you can totally screw over [reader’s favorite team] whenever you feel like it. Like, say, after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. In the year 2011. For example.

PB: In just over two years with the NHL, I have been personally accused of actively hating every club in the league. And while some of the justifications for my supposed hatred are absolutely hilarious (that would actually be a fun list to compile), I would like to assure all six people still reading this that the Department of Player Safety has no strong feelings about the team you cheer for. We do our best to be transparent and consistent, and we work our asses off to get it right. We know we won’t ever be popular in the media, but…well, Burkes get used to that at a young age.

Islanders will play all home games at Nassau Coliseum in 2020-21: Report

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March 22 will be the final Islanders’ game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, according to Newsday.

Randi Marshall reports that New York governor Andrew Cuomo will announce on Saturday that the Islanders will play any home playoff games this season and all of their 2020-21 home schedule at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders are currently building a new arena by Belmont race track which is expected to be ready in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. The franchise played all of its home games at the Coliseum from 1972-2015 before moving to Brooklyn full-time in 2015. That lasted until 2018 when they split home games at both arenas, with Nassau Coliseum playing host to their Round 1 matchup against the Penguins and Barclays for their second round series against the Hurricanes.

While Barclays Center helped keep the Islanders in New York, it has not been the easiest arena to travel to for fans. The ability to get there via mass transit was a positive that the Coliseum doesn’t have. Yet when the Islanders returned back to Long Island last season, there was plenty nostalgia over the building that was home for the franchise’s glory days.

In September the Islanders broke ground on the new 19,000-seat arena at Belmont which is less than 10 miles from Nassau Coliseum.

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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.

David Ayres gets own hockey card, stick on display at Hall of Fame

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It has been quite a week for David Ayres.

At this time seven days almost no one in the hockey world knew he was. But after being forced into action as an emergency backup goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes, and then getting the win in the game over the Toronto Maple Leafs, he is still getting some pretty big honors.

First, there was the shirt that the Hurricanes started to produce with his name and number on the back (with Ayres getting royalties, and other proceeds going to a kidney foundation). He was also invited to the Hurricanes’ home game on Tuesday night to sound the siren before their game against the Dallas Stars.

Now he is getting his own hockey card from Upper Deck, while the stick he used in Saturday’s game is on display at the Metropolitan Division exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The card is part of Upper Deck’s Dated Moments e-packs.

From Upper Deck:

David Ayres, a 42-year-old maintenance operations manager and part-time Zamboni driver, was called into action as the emergency goaltender about halfway through the Carolina Hurricanes’ game against Toronto after both Carolina goaltenders were injured. In his surprise NHL debut, he helped Carolina to a 6-3 win over the Maple Leafs.

Meanwhile, the stick he used in Saturday’s game to stop eight out of 10 shots, is now on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The 42-year-old Ayres had previously served as an emergency backup goalie for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies but never entered the game. He was forced to play on Saturday after Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were both injured.

MORE: Hurricanes emergency goalie David Ayres beats Maple Leafs

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Islanders legend sees parallel with team’s addition of Pageau

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The expectations are enormous when a team surrenders valuable assets at the NHL Trade Deadline for the perceived missing piece.

No late season trade in the past 40 years paid off more handsomely than the Islanders’ acquisition of Butch Goring from the Los Angeles Kings for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis in March of 1980.

Goring immaculately fit into the Islanders’ lineup and immediately became the second-line center New York was missing. The Islanders went on to win 19 consecutive playoff series and four straight Stanley Cups following the shrewd acquisition. When Goring retired after the 1984-85 season, he was 27th in all-time NHL points. The 26 guys ahead of him are all in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I never felt pressure to have to do something I wasn’t capable of doing, I was a mature hockey player,” said Goring, who had seven goals and 12 assists that spring as the Islanders won their first of four consecutive titles. “I knew that the Islanders had done their homework and they knew exactly what they were getting. The transition wasn’t difficult, as far as playing was concerned. It was just a matter of getting to know the guys, that was the difficult part.”

The Islanders will honor Goring Saturday prior to their game against the Boston Bruins with a jersey retirement ceremony. Live coverage will begin at 11:30 a.m. ET on MSG and MSG+.

“To think my jersey is going to be up in the rafters with some of the great players of this organization is almost unfathomable,” said Goring, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1981.

A record 32 trades were completed at the 2020 deadline earlier this week as playoff contenders attempted to bolster their Stanley Cup hopes.

Prior to the deadline, the pressure is squarely on an organization’s front office to correctly identify the team’s needs and obtain the right players. However, the burden quickly shifts onto the coaches and players to help any addition settle in with a new franchise.

“I think what happens with a lot of players when they get traded to another team, they try to be more than they are,” Goring explained. “They think that they have to be a difference maker and show everybody it was a great trade. It doesn’t work that way.”

It’s borderline impossible to find a player that will have the success Goring and the Islanders did in the early 1980s. However, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello identified a need on the ice and acquired a player that “checks all the boxes,” according to coach Barry Trotz.

The Islanders traded for Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for multiple draft picks and quickly signed the center to a six-year, $30 million extension.

“Would you like a 50-goal scorer? Of course, but that wasn’t available,” Goring said. “The Islanders had a need for a third line center, someone who can take faceoffs, someone who can kill penalties, and certainly someone that has offense. You evaluate these moves based on the needs of each team and I really like the deal Lou made for the Islanders.”

Pageau has scored twice in as many games while donning a new sweater, but the Islanders came up short in outings against the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.

The playoff race in the Eastern Conference has quickly tightened up. The Rangers have won nine of their last 10, the Philadelphia Flyers have moved up the Metropolitan Division, the Carolina Hurricanes added several new pieces this week.

Only six points separate the second-place team and seventh-place team in the Metro. In order for the Islanders to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Pageau will need to seamlessly fit in with the Islanders and have a Goring-like impact.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

The NHL’s All-Underrated rookie team

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Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar and Vancouver Canucks defender Quinn Hughes have long been thought of as the only two legitimate Calder Trophy candidates. But is it really just a two-horse race? One of those two players will likely be named rookie of the year, there are other first-year players having impressive seasons in 2019-20.

So, we decided to build the all-underrated rookie team for the 2019-20 season. We’ll pick two wingers, a center, a pair of defensemen and a starting netminder. These first-year players have received their share of recognition, but none of them has gotten serious Calder consideration.

Here we go:

Dominik Kubalik – W – Chicago Blackhawks: The 24-year-old scored a hat trick in last night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s now up to 29 goals and 44 points in 62 games this season. That puts him on pace for 37 goals in 2019-20. That’s an impressive total for any player, let alone someone who is in their first season in North America.

Even his teammates are openly campaigning for him now:

Kubalik’s numbers are even more impressive when you consider that 25 of his 29 goals and 35 of his 44 points have come at even strength. No other rookie has more than 12 even-strength goals in 2019-20. That’s how good the ‘Hawks freshman has been.

Nick Suzuki – C – Montreal Canadiens: Suzuki was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights along with Tomas Tatar and a second-round draft pick. The Habs had to give up captain Max Pacioretty to them that haul, but it’s a deal that’s worked out well for both sides.

Suzuki started the year playing wing on the fourth line and he’s since emerged as a valuable contributor down the middle. The 20-year-old is in the middle of a four-game pointless drought, but he’s managed to pick up 13 goals and 40 points in 66 games. His numbers are solid, but don’t jump off the page. That’s mainly because he didn’t start getting power play time until later on in the season.

He deserves to be mentioned among the group of under the radar rookies. He’s shown that his hockey IQ is up there for a player of his age and he has the offensive instincts to chip in offensively with regularity.

“He’s a smart player, he figures it out, but at the end of the day it’s having been through that grind before,” head coach Claude Julien said of the rookie’s heavy workload in junior hockey, per CBC. “Once the guys go through it once they’re a lot better the second time around. So to me, he had it before he got here and that’s why he’s doing well.”

Victor Olofsson – W – Buffalo Sabres: Olofsson is to power play goals what Kubalik is to even-strength production. The Sabres rookie has scored 19 goals this season and 11 of them have come on the man-advantage. Sure, you’d like to see him produce more at five-on-five, but when you can get this type of offense from a player drafted in seventh round, you shouldn’t complain.

No matter what you think of his even-strength production, you have to be encouraged by the fact that his first NHL campaign has gone this well. It’s definitely something he can build on going forward. And since when is being a lethal weapon on the power play such a bad thing anyway?

Adam Fox – D – New York Rangers: How is it possible to be underrated in New York? Well, Fox has found a way. The 22-year-old has an impressive seven goals and 34 points in 63 games this season. He’s also averaging 18:45 of ice time per game, but he’s played over 20 minutes in each of the last eight games.

It’s always good for a youngster to be mentioned in the same breath as a player like John Carlson. The numbers in the above tweet are really impressive.

Canadiens forward Max Domi banked a puck off Fox and into the Rangers net in the first period of last night’s game, but the rookie responded with a goal and an assist in his team’s comeback victory.

Ethan Bear – D – Edmonton Oilers: Penguins defenseman John Marino would’ve probably been in the spot had he been healthy, but he’s been sidelined for a while now. Bear is worthy of being here. The 22-year-old played 18 games in the NHL last year, but he still qualifies as a rookie in 2019-20.

He’s emerged as a key piece on a team that’s been lacking quality defenders for a while now. Bear has begun getting more power play time recently and he’s also averaging 21:42 of ice time, which is more than Makar (20:52) and slightly less than Hughes (21:44).

Bear has five goals and 20 points in 64 games this season. Those numbers should continue to climb now that he’s getting added time on special teams.

Elvis Merzlikins – G – Columbus Blue Jackets: How could it not be Elvis? Yes, Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov has also put together a strong rookie year, but no one expected the Blue Jackets to compete for a playoff spot this year.

Merzlikins suffered an injury on Tuesday night and Columbus needs him to get back as soon as possible. He’s posted a 12-9-8 record with a 2.39 goals-against-average and a .922 save percentage this season. And, oh by the way, he’s also tied for the league lead in shutouts, with five.

The 25-year-old’s first season in North America has gone as well as anybody could’ve expected. The Blue Jackets are 1-4-5 in their last 10 games, but they’re still clinging on to the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They need Elvis to get back in the building (sorry) as soon as possible.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.