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Flyers latest NHL team to open doors to behind-scenes access

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When NHL officials approached the Philadelphia Flyers about appearing on their latest behind-the-scenes show, they faced almost no resistance.

”There weren’t many reservations,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. ”There really aren’t any negatives as far as I’m concerned.”

The Flyers will be featured on NHL Network’s second season of ”Behind the Glass” that gives a peek behind the curtain to training camp, exhibition games and the regular-season opener in Europe. In previous decades or even years, it might’ve been hard to persuade a prominent hockey team to open its doors to all the cameras, but it’s becoming far more acceptable in a sport typically predicated on secrecy.

”I can see maybe people who haven’t done it before maybe being hesitant about it,” said New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero, whose team was the subject of the show last season. ”You’re not exactly going to sit down to tell state secrets, but at the same time there’s going to be some open dialogue and I think that’s really good.”

HBO’s two iterations of ”Road to the Winter Classic” may have more closely matched ”Hard Knocks,” which shows viewers an uncensored version of an NFL training camp. The Washington Capitals’ eight-game losing streak in late 2010 became a prominent part of the first show.

NHL chief content officer and executive Vice President Steve Mayer pointed out that hockey preseason is different from football, where players are outright released if they don’t make the team. Cameras last year tracked Devils personnel grading players after games and deciding on final roster spots, and that same access will be available inside the Flyers’ conference rooms.

”I don’t know if I’d want this in the first round, in a playoff series or something like that, but training camp, it’s positive,” Fletcher said. ”That time of the year, there’s not a lot of criticism. Some players obviously perform better than others. But the play kind of dictates what decisions you make anyway.”

Shero recalls Matt Cooke being upset in 2010 when HBO showed Pittsburgh coaches grading his game performance a 2 on a scale of 1-5 but said he got over it. Shero’s biggest concern on ”Behind the Glass” was making sure comments about opposing teams and players didn’t make it on the air.

Fletcher was a Devils adviser a year ago, which led to his support of letting NHL Network in for new coach Alain Vigneault’s first Flyers camp.

”They’re not going to show your systems and show things that might be sensitive,” Fletcher said. ”It ends up being more of the personal interactions and showcasing the players on the bubble trying to make the team and showcasing a couple of the star players and how they get ready and showing the coach speaking to the team. I think they do a very good job of showing real, legitimate, behind-the-scenes material.”

Mayer said the meeting with Flyers business and hockey operations executives went so well that details of the show were being discussed even before final approval was given. The NHL doesn’t want to mandate teams taking part in shows like this in large part because Mayer believes willing participants will be less afraid to go about their normal days.

While there are still some old-school people who don’t understand the benefits of letting the cameras in, that crowd is shrinking.

”I definitely see the seismic shift over to ‘We want to do these,”’ Mayer said. ”(There are) more people in the hockey world, the hockey ops world, who do believe there’s a benefit to these shows, that think we treat the players, the organizations with complete respect.”

A year after Gritty the mascot took pop culture by storm, the decision to shine the spotlight on Fletcher, Vigneault and a team with stars Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and possible goalie of the future Carter Hart was a no-brainer on the Flyers’ marketing side. They’ve alternated making and missing the playoffs the past seven seasons and haven’t won the Stanley Cup since going back to back in 1974 and 1975.

Opening the season against the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague is also another chance to show the organization to a bigger audience.

”It’s a great opportunity for us,” Flyers President of business operations Valerie Camillo said. ”We thought it would be a great way for our fans to know the team, the personalities of the team.”

NHL plans to test players for COVID-19 daily if games resume

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Nick Foligno watches Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus briefings and appreciates the value of the information.

It is part of the reason the Columbus captain supports NHL players undergoing daily testing if the season resumes.

“Testing is a must because it’s the only way you’re going to know and feel confident every time you step on the ice that everyone is in the same boat as you and you can play the game to the best of your ability,” Foligno said.

The first major North American professional sports league to announce a format for its potential return to competition also has a comprehensive COVID-19 testing strategy. There are screening protocols in place for voluntary workouts and training camp in the hands of individual teams. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly also said the NHL plans to test all players every day when games start happening.

“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,” Daly said. “It’s expensive, but we think it’s really a foundational element of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Each test costs approximately $125, the league says, and Commissioner Gary Bettman estimated 25,000-35,000 will be needed to get through the playoffs — a price tag, he concedes, of “millions of dollars.” But athletes have plenty of concerns about risking their health to get back to work, and regular testing is something players insisted on.

“You need testing at a level sufficient to be confident that you’re going to be on top of anything which might happen,” NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr said. “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.”

Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security isn’t quite sure how often athletes should be tested to ensure they are virus-free. He said testing in German soccer will help other leagues determine the right frequency, which also depends on the type of quarantine and exposure risks players will have.

“We do know that people that have increased contact with each other are going to have more opportunity to spread the virus, and hockey is one of the sports where individuals do have a lot of contact with each other,” Adalja said. “I would say that they’re going to have to be more aggressive than other leagues in terms of testing.”

While players vary on their general concern about contracting the virus by resuming the season, many seem to be on board with frequent testing.

“Having it each and every day begins to limit the potential of getting the virus,” Edmonton player representative Darnell Nurse said. “If that’s what it takes, that’s what the professionals who are in this field and tackle these challenges each and every day, if that’s what they believe is the best option, then that’s the way you have to go.”

Teammate Connor McDavid and Toronto captain John Tavares, who are members of the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play committee, deferred to experts on how often players should be tested. McDavid added, “I think you have to get tested in a time like this, and you want to get tested as frequently as you can to catch it right away.”

Daly said one person testing positive for the coronavirus would not necessarily mean another pause for the NHL. Leaguewide testing done daily would allow the isolation of an infected player, coach or staff member before the start of an outbreak.

“If one guy tests positive, I see it as unlikely that other guys don’t test positive, but in assessing everybody I have to believe that they’ll probably find it,” Montreal player rep Paul Byron said. “What would happen if half your team or four or five or six guys test positive at one time?”

League and team officials have stressed they would only use thousands of tests if that number does not endanger the supply for the general public, a concern Adalja broached for all sports. Bettman said medical experts told the NHL that by the time games could resume this summer, 25,000-30,000 would be “a relatively insignificant number.”

Adalja said a league partnering with a national chain for testing could keep it from interfering with the public supply, though it is difficult to predict what availability will be like in late summer. He also said the cost and availability depends on whether the NHL would use more expensive but more reliable PCR tests — the nose swabs — or rapid antigen tests that can have less sensitivity.

Protocols for voluntary workouts and training camps require PCR testing where available, and Daly said the NHL continues to study the potential use of antigen testing.

Part of the decision on which cities host games is the amount of COVID-19 present in the community. Bettman hopes the combination of going to a place with less of it, testing frequently and putting players in a quarantine “bubble” of sorts means it’s less likely for anyone to contract it.

The players putting faith in the league to keep them healthy hope that turns out to be correct.

“Staying on top of everyone is going to be a good challenge for our training staff, and the onus on the players in making sure everyone’s safe,” Carolina captain Jordan Staal said. “It’s going to be different. It’s going to be some interesting hurdles but hopefully if we get back on the ice, I’m sure the guys will find a way to jump through them.”

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.