Emergency goalie protocol talk on tap for NHL GMs meeting

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When a 42-year-old Zamboni driver entered as an emergency goaltender and won an NHL game, it became one of the best stories in sports.

But David Ayres going from practicing with the Toronto Maple Leafs to playing against them in the thick of a playoff race also generated debate about what should happen in those rare instances. So emergency goalie protocol will be a significant topic of conversation when general managers open their annual March meeting Monday in Boca Raton, Florida.

”This was a perfect storm,” Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said. ”You never think it’s going to get to the point where you get two guys hurt, but it did happen. … Is it something that happens once every 20 years? Is it a great story? That’s what we’ll have to discuss.”

Ayres is not employed by the Maple Leafs and works as operations manager at the former Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. He has for years been one of the organization’s on-call practice goalies and even backed up for their top minor league affiliate during a game.

Despite going in for Carolina in a blue and white mask and equipment, Ayres stopped eight of the 10 shots he faced to help the Hurricanes beat the Maple Leafs. Because of that result, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford didn’t think much about the oddity of the situation.

”I guess if the result of the game had’ve gone the other way, I might’ve put more thought into it,” Rutherford said. ”What’s going on now is everybody’s talking about what if, a lot of what ifs. We can talk in circles about what ifs and everything. I don’t have an issue with what just took place. But, like always, I’m open to listen to everybody’s thoughts and what everybody’s ideas are.”

The current rule of each arena making an emergency goalie available for a game stemmed from 2015 incident in Florida that almost caused an assistant coach to put on the pads and play. Because an emergency goalie has only been required to play twice – Ayres and Scott Foster for Chicago in 2018 – executives and officials might find the current protocol better than the old-school notion of making a skater go in net.

”We said it’s unfair to the guy on the ice to have to go in there,” St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said. ”It didn’t make any sense. So, now we said let’s see if there’s someone locally that can go in the net. It’s difficult to find 31 A-plus goalies that go to 41 home games a year. There’s always ways to try and see if we can improve it.”

Armstrong said he wouldn’t be in favor of the expense of carrying a third goalie all season, which would also be impractical. One possibility calls for each team to have a full-time employee at home and on the road ready to serve in goal if needed.

”What, do you go find a guy that’s not too bad of a goalie that can practice every day and work in your marketing department or wherever he’s working?” Nill said. ”He’s got to travel with the team all the time. We look at those scenarios. With everything, there’s CBA issues involved, there’s labor laws involved, so just different things that you have to check off the boxes before you can decide what to do.”

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL has to work with the Players’ Association on collective bargaining concerns, like determining who counts as a player. Those complications make it no easy fix with perhaps no perfect solution.

”Obviously we want what’s best for the game, and we want to make sure people aren’t putting themselves in danger by playing goal in a National Hockey League game,” Daly said. ”That’s obviously something we have to continue to work through.”

Some other topics that could come up when GMs meet Monday-Wednesday:

– Some offside reviews are disputable because a player’s skate might be in the air, making it unclear even on replay. Coach’s challenges are down after a rule change making an unsuccessful challenge a penalty, but this is more about officials getting it right.

”The offside rule I think is going to be discussed again where just breaking the plane would make it a little bit easier to view it on the video,” Rutherford said. ”It’s always hard for the linesmen regardless which way we do this because everything’s happening so fast.”

– A few seasons into hybrid icing, Rutherford is concerned there are too many icing stoppages because players are skating back slower to get the call from linesmen.

”It appears to me that we now have more icings than are necessary where a guy going back for a puck may turn the opposite way where he could’ve got the puck or he may just play the opposing player at the blue line when he could’ve got the puck,” he said. ”I have to find out if other GMs feel the same way, but if we do, maybe tighten that up a bit.”

– Commissioner Gary Bettman said recently the NHL isn’t planning to make radical changes to its playoff format like the NBA is considering. But with two of the top three teams in the league — Boston and Tampa Bay — playing in the same division, the current divisional format of those teams potentially facing off in the second round might again be questioned.

”We were in 1 to 8 (in each conference) and there was a disparity in travel and so we went to this format,” Armstrong said. ”There’s going to be pros and cons to whatever decision is made. I understand the logic of talking about 1 to 8, but that’s an easy talk in the Eastern Conference. It’s a difficult talk in the Western Conference.”

– In-arena medical procedures worked when Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the bench earlier this month with a cardiac event. Because of the success of those protocols in situations involving Jiri Fischer, Rich Peverly and Bouwmeester, it’s not an area that needs immediate attention but will continue to be looked at to see what can be better.

”It’s not something that I think anyone looks at and says, ‘OK, this is perfect’ because it’s such an important thing,” Armstrong said. ”It’s not something that will just stay stagnant. We’ll always try to evolve to make sure player safety and fan safety is at the forefront of our game.”

Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

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FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

“Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

“Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

“Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Robertson will finally be there now.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.