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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.”

NHL, NHLPA agree on protocols to resume season

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The NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed Sunday on protocols to resume the season, a major step toward the return of hockey this summer.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press there was an agreement on protocols for training camps and games and the sides are still negotiating an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, which is crucial to the process.

A person with knowledge of the situation said the return-to-play protocols would only go into effect if each side votes to approve the full package of the CBA extension and return-to-play agreement. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because CBA talks are still ongoing.

To complete a return, two-thirds of the league’s board of governors and majorities of the players’ executive committee and full membership must vote in favor.

If everything is ratified, it will end a pandemic-forced shutdown that began in mid-March. Games would resume in late July or early August with 24 teams taking part in an expanded playoffs, finishing with the Stanley Cup being awarded in October.

The agreement was first reported by TSN.

The 47 pages of protocols outline the health and safety measures the league and players agreed to after several weeks of negotiations. Any player has until 5 p.m. EDT on Tuesday to notify his team if he’s choosing to opt out of participating in training camp and games.

For those playing, each team is limited to 30 skaters and an unlimited amount of goaltenders for camp and total roster of up to 31 players for games. Each team is limited to 52 personnel in its game city, a group that must include two trainers, a doctor and compliance officer in addition players, coaches and management.

They are expected to be quarantined from the general public during play at least for the qualifying and first two traditional playoff rounds. Family members will be permitted to join when play is moved to one city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.

All team and league employees plus hotel, restaurant and arena staff coming in contact with players will be tested daily in the two ”hub” cities.

One player’s positive coronavirus test result is not expected to shut down play entirely. The league has said it would isolate any player or staff member who tests positive, acknowledging an outbreak would threaten the remainder of the season.

”The players will be pretty well-protected from being exposed,” Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said during a conference call in June. ”It’s going to be a completely different way for you all and us watching hockey and being around a team because players will be really well protected throughout the process.”

The protocols include a provision for Commissioner Gary Bettman in consultation with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr to postpone, delay or cancel games in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Assuming the protocols are approved, teams are expected to open training camps July 13 before traveling to the two hub cities for games. Players have been able to skate and train off-ice in voluntary, small-group workouts since June 8 – nearly three months after hockey was halted March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining.

Returning for the playoffs is seen as a stirring victory for the NHL, which like other top leagues faced the prospect of losing millions more without the television revenue tied to the postseason. There were deep concerns about canceling the rest of the season and word of positive tests didn’t help: 26 players since June 8, in addition to almost a dozen before that.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk called the positive test results ”eye-opening” but expected. A few players expressed concerns in recent weeks about the uncertainty surrounding a return.

”We have obviously a unique situation right now,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. ”The NHL and the NHLPA are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. Moving forward I’d like to play, but we have a lot of questions that need to be answered and a lot of scenarios that need to be covered.”

If the protocols and an CBA extension cover those scenarios for enough owners and players, there will be a path forward to hand out the Stanley Cup. Only twice since 1893 has the Cup not been awarded: in 1919, when the final couldn’t be completed because of the Spanish flu pandemic, and 2005 when the season was wiped out by a lockout.

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports