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NHL’s best referee: Wes McCauley goes by his own book

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Wes McCauley keeps his good calls close and his bad calls closer.

Any time the veteran NHL referee is feeling too good or gets down on himself, he breaks out a binder full of his missed calls and looks through it.

”It’s a humbling book,” McCauley said. ”Trust me, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. There’s times you wish you could saw your arm off.”

McCauley’s arms have signaled countless penalties, goals and no-goals since his NHL career began in 2003. Over the past 15 years, he has developed a reputation as not only the most animated referee in the game but the best in hockey based on his consistency, rapport with players and coaches and a demeanor that’s equal parts entertaining and professional.

In an NHLPA poll last spring, almost half of players chose McCauley as the league’s best referee, honoring a man in stripes who’s far more used to getting barked at than complimented.

”I don’t think I’m that good,” McCauley told The Associated Press. ”My job’s just to officiate hockey games and to do the best I can and to move on to the next game and really to stay out of the highlights.”

McCauley has his own highlight reels because he enjoys hamming it up when he makes announcements. When he reaches to his right hip to turn on the microphone, it’s must-see entertainment.

His flair for the dramatic once sent former Rangers coach Alain Vigneault into a laughing fit on the bench, and it has been the subject of mocking from veteran officials for just how demonstrative he can be when whistling a penalty or waving off a goal. McCauley knows he’s more exuberant than he has to be, but that’s part of the fun for him and players.

”He’s real,” Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. ”He’s obviously an animated guy and definitely calls a good game.”

McCauley earned the votes of 47.8 percent of players as the NHL’s best referee, well ahead of Kelly Sutherland (17.7 percent), Tim Peel (4.4 percent), Dan O’Halloran (2.7 percent) and Trevor Hanson (2.7 percent). The 46-year-old from Georgetown, Ontario, is the most popular and respected ref because he gets it right more often than not, apologizes when he doesn’t and knows how to explain his calls to players and coaches.

”Consistency. You kind of know what you’re getting with him,” Rangers forward Chris Kreider said. ”In any sport when you talk about refereeing, if a ref isn’t very visible and prevalent and the game is decided by the players ultimately, then that’s a good ref and that’s Wes.”

McCauley gets that. He played four seasons at Michigan State from 1989-93, had a cup of coffee in the minors and figures his relationships with players from that era bought him the benefit of the doubt, and some of that still exists.

”He’s in charge out there, and there’s really not a lot of gray area,” said Capitals coach Todd Reirden, who went to Bowling Green and played against McCauley in college. ”He stands his line and he lets the players play, but he also has a great pulse of what’s going on and I think that’s from his experiences of playing the game at a collegiate level and also some at a pro level. He relates really well with the players and with the coaches.”

McCauley vividly remembers botching a call in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final when he didn’t see that Washington’s Chandler Stephenson, not Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland, tripped teammate Nicklas Backstrom and called a penalty. As with many other calls, he hoped it wouldn’t directly affect the result and apologized to Engelland later.

That’s a common theme during McCauley’s career.

”I still remember one time he made a bad call and he found me the next time we were playing and said: ‘Hey, I just want to let you know I know that call was really bad. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I wanted to apologize,”’ Winnipeg center Mark Scheifele said. ”When he has the respect level for the game and for us as players, we have respect for him. And I think that’s why he’s known to be the best referee out there.”

Best referee out there? ”Now you jinxed me – now I’m going to be up and down like a toilet seat next season,” McCauley quipped. Maybe earlier in his career that was a danger, though McCauley now has 957 regular-season and 131 playoff games under his and has worked six Stanley Cup Final series.

Over that time, McCauley has developed a balance between knowing players see him as an obstacle to winning while still communicating with them to the point they know him personally. Even if players aren’t happy with his calls, they appreciate McCauley’s honesty and ability to have just as big a mouth as they do.

”You automatically sometimes snap at the refs,” Stars center Tyler Seguin said. ”Sometimes you blame the refs for things that were even out of their control. And he finds a way to take it, give it back a little and then move on pretty quickly and he’s always been very respectful to the players and I think that’s what makes him a great ref.”

McCauley’s life experiences helped make him a great ref. His dad, John McCauley, worked 15 years as an NHL referee before an eye injury took him off the ice and led to a director of officiating job before his unexpected death at age 44. His brother, Blaine, suffered an eye injury that cost him his hockey-playing career and changed Wes’ view forever.

”My biggest thing is when I step on the ice, I want the players to feel like, ‘Oh, OK we’re going to get a fair shake tonight,”’ McCauley said. ”I’ve never really taken it for granted, so I try to go out there and referee every game the best I can.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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Lundqvist happy to be part of Rangers rebuild

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Henrik Lundqvist is entering his 14th season in the NHL, having spent his entire career with the New York Rangers. And although the team is in a rebuilding mode for a future run at their first Stanley Cup title since 1994, the 36-year-old goalie wants to stick around and be a part of that process.

”People talk about rebuild and nobody knows how long of a project that is,” Lundqvist said at the Rangers’ practice facility in Greenburgh, New York. ”There’s no other place I want to be. I feel great, excited to be back here and just see how far we can take this forward this year.”

The Rangers are in their current state after dealing several stars in a youth movement at the trade deadline last winter and then finishing 20 points out of a playoff spot while missing the postseason for the first time in eight years. Hours after their last game in April, coach Alain Vigneualt was fired and replaced weeks later by David Quinn, who made the jump from Boston University to the NHL.

Lundqvist said he got a ”really good impression” of the new coach when Quinn traveled to Sweden during the summer to meet with the veteran goalie and forwards Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast. However, Lundqvist is eager to see how Quinn is during the season.

”It’s one thing to sit down in July and discuss, and another to discuss under pressure,” Lundqvist said. ”I’m curious to see how things are going to feel in here. I think every time you have a new coach, you’re going to have a different feel in the room. Just the way they coach and the way they speak to the group. You always learn something.”

Quinn is fine with that.

The coach said he knew all along that Lundqvist wanted to be a part of the Rangers’ new direction.

”Just the shape he’s in tells you that he’s all in,” Quinn said. ”I had a pretty good idea of where he was once I took the job, it was always part of the conversations. So I had a good idea he was all in and wanted to stay and wanted to finish his career here and be part of the next wave of success.”

Lundqvist is coming off a season in which he went 26-26-7 with a 2.98 goals-against average – the highest of his career. It was also just the second time he finished with fewer than 30 wins; the other was the lockout-shortened 2012-13, when he was 24-16-3.

His offseason training last year was delayed when he injured his knee playing for Sweden in the world championships. This year, he had a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right knee after the season, took a few weeks off and then began his summer routine.

”It’s back to where it needs to be,” he said. ”I feel great. Right now, there’s nothing really bothering me. I can go 100 percent.”

Happy that training camp has started, Lundqvist is looking forward to seeing how the team shapes up.

”Camp is always fun,” he said. ”It’s always the same feeling. You’re anxious to get going, a little nervous, excited. It feels really good to be here.”

The Rangers still have plenty of talent on the roster, led by forwards Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and Zibanejad, and defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei and Marc Staal.

With Quinn’s desire to implement a ”fast and physical” style of play that is different from what the team is used to, Lundqvist knows the early part of camp will be important for players to ”pay attention to a lot of the new details and how we want to play the game.”

However, he didn’t want to make any predictions for the season.

”I don’t think we should look too far (ahead),” Lundqvist said. ”We should look to get a good camp, get a good start and build off that and let’s see how far that takes us. That’s going to tell us how we’ll to stack up against other teams.”

The Rangers begin preseason play Monday night at New Jersey, and Quinn said how much action Lundqvist will see in the exhibition games will be determined on a day-to-day basis.

Alexandar Georgiev, who went 4-4-1 with a 3.15 GAA in 10 games down the stretch last season, and Marek Mazanec, signed after compiling a 8-13-4 mark with a 2.98 GAA in 31 career games for the Nashville Predators, are also in camp. Quinn said he is open to having the goalies split games in the preseason.

The Rangers open the season at home against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 4.

Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

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NHL one year away from key labor deadline

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Connor McDavid heard teammates talking about another potential lockout when he entered the NHL – in 2015.

As he became one of hockey’s best players and signed the richest annual contract in the league, McDavid says he remains optimistic there will not be another work stoppages like those in 2004-05 and 2012-13 – but he protected himself anyway with contract language guaranteeing some early payment, just in case.

”Both parties have kind of prepared so long for it,” McDavid said. ”I genuinely believe that both sides want to keep playing. We want to play and the owners want to keep making money.”

The NHL has reached almost $5 billion in revenue, up from just $437 million in 1993, and is in the midst of a U.S. TV deal with NBC that pays $2 billion and a Canadian TV deal with Sportsnet that pays almost $5 billion. The growth and popularity of NHL hockey is undeniable, yet labor issues are bubbling beneath the veneer – again.

The current collective bargaining agreement cannot be terminated until September 2020, but there is a key date looming 12 months from now: On Sept. 1, 2019, the league has the option and then, on Sept. 15, the Players’ Association has the option to terminate the labor pact.

Another battle is brewing, with revenue, escrow payments and the Olympics among the top issues expected to be on the table.

”Everyone has a pretty good understanding of what the PA’s trying to get done and what the NHL’s trying to get done,” New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider said. ”I don’t think the conversation about (hockey-related revenue) is going away any time soon. It’s such a kind of ambiguous and often argued-about point. I know guys want to go to the Olympics, and I know guys don’t like escrow.”

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr told The Associated Press he didn’t necessarily expect one side or the other to reopen labor talks but ”that’s what you plan for, and you sort of assume it’s going to happen because otherwise you’re not ready.” Commissioner Gary Bettman told The AP he’s ”a fan of stability and labor peace. We’re not looking for a dispute.”

Bettman proposed a three-year extension of the current CBA through 2025 in exchange for the league agreeing to participate in the 2018 Olympics. As much as players wanted to go, they rejected that deal – a signal they have concerns with the deal signed in 2013.

One of the prevailing player complaints is having upward of 10 percent of their paychecks held in escrow to conform to the 50/50 split of revenue with owners. The salary cap goes up, but if revenue doesn’t grow in proportion, players forfeit a percentage of their pay.

”I don’t care how much money you make or what you do, you sign a contract, you feel like you’ve earned that and you expect that your employer is going to hold up his end of the deal,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. ”At the end of each season to be told that they’re going to take back 10 or 12 or 15 or sometimes 20 percent of your contract? I think that’s a kick you-know-where. I don’t agree with that, and I think there’s a lot of things the NHL can do to promote the game and enhance the business side of the game. Their mistakes shouldn’t be coming out of the players’ pockets.”

The ultimate goal is to grow business big enough that escrow is reduced to zero and contracts are worth exactly as they’re written. Players consider the Olympics one opportunity to grow the game. Bettman and the owners say stopping the season for two weeks is a significant disruption, but the Olympics will be a point of internal discussion and could extend to bargaining talks.

”We need a long-term international calendar agreement with the owners,” Fehr said. ”And I think they share that view even if we have significantly different views as to what that calendar should be. But I would like to believe that we could figure out a way to do that. So is (going to the Olympics) definitely going to be a subject of collective bargaining? I can’t say that yet. Is it possible? Of course.”

Given that lockouts wiped out the 2004-05 season and reduced it to 48 games in 2013, some star players and their agents looked ahead to a potential work stoppage in 2020 or 2022. According to PuckPedia , 77 players have signing bonuses in their contracts for the 2020-21 season totaling over $252 million – an increase of more than 10 percent from the amount of players who have bonuses in 2019-20.

McDavid has $12 million of his $13 million salary that season in a signing bonus paid in July, Toronto’s John Tavares will make $11.09 million of his $12 million with the lump sum and many other top players have the so-called lockout protections in their contracts – just in case.

”I just hope as a player that I don’t try to be looking at things differently or selfishly because I’ve earned that money ahead of time where obviously maybe other players haven’t,” Tavares said. ”I think you try to put yourself in the middle and try to look at things objectively.

”I think obviously, unfortunately, the last few times there’s been opportunities for the CBA to be negotiated, there’s been lengthy labor stoppages and something that obviously I had to consider. When you see that as part of history, you worry that that trend is going to continue.”

AP Hockey Writers John Wawrow and Larry Lage contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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NHL Player Media Tour 2018 Notebook

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CHICAGO — After six years away, James van Riemsdyk returns to the Philadelphia Flyers after inking a five-year, $35 million contract on July 1. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft spent three seasons with the team before being part a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs that sent defenseman Luke Schenn to the Flyers.

So when it became clear that the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be re-signing the 29-year-old winger, a reunion was in the offing. In making that happen, Flyers captain Claude Giroux and fellow forward Jake Voracek put in some calls to their former teammate, hoping to lure him back.

“Didn’t really try and sell him on anything, to be honest,” said Giroux. “Was just trying to see what he thought. He had some questions about the organization and the team and the players. I was just honest with him. I told him how I really feel. I think he liked that and we were able to get him. I think he’s very excited to come back to Philly and so are we.”

van Riemsdyk scored a career high 36 goals last season and has developed into a dangerous presence in front of goal, especially on the power play He’s already comfortable playing in Philadelphia and can possibly rekindle some chemistry with Giroux depending on how head coach Dave Hakstol juggles his lines.

Coming off a season where a number of young players took steps forward and the captain had a career season, the Flyers and Giroux can’t help but be excited by the addition.

“He’s a great player in front of the net — could be on the power play or 5-on-5,” he said. “He’s a very smart hockey player. He’s a great competitor. I’ve seen him play in the playoffs and dominate a hockey game against Boston. I was very impressed. We know and he knows he has that in him and for him to come in and help us out, it’s very motivating.”

Anders Lee on extension talks, Trotz’s arrival

It’s been a bit of a busy summer for the New York Islanders. They have a new head coach, a new general manager, and lost their captain in free agency. As Lou Lamoriello took over for Garth Snow, he’s done work to try and improve upon last season’s playoff-less spring.

A number of players are entering the final year of their deals, like Anders Lee. His agent hasn’t started negotiations with Lamoriello on an extension, but the 40-goal scorer understands why talks haven’t commenced just yet.

“They’ve been in contact. They’ve worked together before,” he said. “I think everyone knows we just have other things he has to worry about right now.”

One of those ‘things’ is getting new head coach Barry Trotz settled with his new team. After being unable to come to terms on an extension after winning the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, they parted ways and three days later he was hired by the Islanders. 

Trotz’s ability to develop a winning culture is something that has Lee very excited for the season.

“Barry’s resume speaks for itself,” he said. “Where he’s been with Nashville and Washington and where he’s taken his teams, obviously winning the Stanley Cup last year is the ultimate goal and he’s done that. His experiences and who is he as a person, from what I’ve been told, I think is going to be great for us.”

McDavid felt weight of the ‘C’

In Connor McDavid’s first season as captain of the Edmonton Oilers, they made the playoffs. There was a sense of a arrival and that with an elite level talent like McDavid, the good times finally returned.

But last season was a disaster. As McDavid played out of his mind, the Oilers won 11 fewer games and dipped 25 points from the 2016-17 season. It wasn’t just a step back, it was a plunge back to the bottom.

As the season quickly slipped from their grasp, McDavid felt the crushing disappointment.

“I think anytime you’ve got a team that doesn’t make the playoffs the captain always feels it. Everyone feels it,” said McDavid. “It doesn’t matter who you are on the team. That’s the point of the team. When you do wear the ‘C’ you feel a lot of responsibility. You take a lot on yourself. You think that there’s some sort of magic thing that needs to be said or some sort of magic thing that needs to be done, but ultimately it’s all about the team.”

This summer general manager Peter Chiarelli didn’t make any drastic changes to his roster. Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak were brought in and defenseman Evan Bouchard was drafted No. 10 overall. The lack of change has the feeling that it’ll be another rough year in Edmonton. Just don’t tell that to McDavid.

“It’s kind of always been said if Peter could make a move he was going to and obviously nothing came up and that’s what we wanted, honestly,” he said. “I think everyone in the locker room believes in each other. We believe that we’re going to be a good team.”

Jack Eichel’s leadership lessons from Brian Gionta

It’s been two full seasons since the Buffalo Sabres have had a captain, but it’s a good bet that the 21-year-old Eichel will be donning the ‘C’ on a regular basis pretty soon. Taking on an extra responsibility like that won’t make the young center change anything about himself, however.

“It’s obviously a huge honor if that ever happened,” said Eichel. “There’s some good leaders on the team and there’s a good leadership group. There’s a lot of guys to rely on that make it easy for you to lead. 

“For me, it’s more or less just not changing. ‘C,’ no ‘C,’ ‘A,’ whatever. Try and be yourself, do what you do. That’s the mindset I try and take anywhere I go. Whatever I’ve done to get to my spot now, just try to be myself. Be the personality I have. But you get that obviously there’s more responsibility. You’ve got to continue to handle yourself the right way. [It’d be a] huge honor. There’s a lot of deserving guys, but it’d be cool.”

The Sabres last captain was Brian Gionta, who was there as Eichel entered the NHL in 2015. The way the veteran forward handled himself left an impression on the franchise’s young star — something that could be useful if he’s to succeed Gionta in the leadership role.

“The biggest thing with Gio was his professionalism,” Eichel said. “Gio’s the type of guy who was at the rink early every morning, he had his routine. He knew what he needed to do to prepare for practice, prepare for games, and he did every day, no matter what. Whether it was February or August or October, whatever it was, he was going to do his routine every day and prepare the same way. Big game, practice, morning skate, he prepared like a pro. 

“I was able to learn a lot about preparation, getting yourself ready, getting your body ready, doing the right things in order to be at your best.”

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SHORT SHIFTS

“Begrudgingly. They brought in a BC assistant coach, so it evens out.” – A joking New York Rangers forward and Boston College alum Chris Kreider on if he’ll be able to play for a Boston University product in David Quinn.

“It’s tough. It’s really intense. I think the biggest thing I never really understood was how much of a mental battle it is, how intense it is. You think about every little play after a game, what you could have done better, what you wish you would have done. The mental battle is something I learned a lot about something that I’m definitely better off for [experiencing].” – Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele on what he learned during the grind to reach the Western Conference Final last season.

“No, absolutely not. I think that’s the worst thing I can do. I just have to play my game and yeah, I’d like to score more and create more offense, but you also have to be good defensively.” – Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings on if he’ll change anything should he be given added responsibility in the absence of captain Henrik Zetterberg.

“I think our young guys are going to keep getting better and better. [Alex] Kerfoot, [Tyson] Jost, [J.T.] Compher, all those guys are just going to continue to develop. That’s kind of like adding players when those guys get better, it’s like adding scoring. The three of us — [Gabriel] Landeskog, me and [Mikko] Rantanen — are going to have to be really good this year. I think our goalies are set. We have [Philipp] Grubauer and [Semyon] Varlamov — that’s a great 1-2. We feel good. It’s going to be a tough division, the Central, but we’re ready.” – Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche on improvements for this season.

“He’s very repetitive with what he believes in and the system that he follows. He started at the beginning of the season with what he wanted us to do and what he wanted in our organization. He was very adamant on continuing to tell us what he wanted. He didn’t stray off if we didn’t listen, saying right away he would make sure he would beat it into us. Very intense, but at the same time very laid back guy. It’s tough to explain. He’s an awesome guy, easy to talk to and very serious when it comes to the game of hockey. He’s just your typical hard-nosed [coach], like he played; he’s that kind of coach. He’s extremely intense and his love for the game and his want to win and hate to lose attitude makes you want to win for him and have that same attitude.” – Vincent Trocheck on Florida Panthers head coach Bob Boughner.

MORE NHL MEDIA TOUR COVERAGE:
Kane, Toews ready to turn page on playoff-less 2017-18 season
Tavares hopes for ‘positive’ reception when Maple Leafs visit Isles
Taylor Hall not expecting complacency from Devils after playoff return
Eric Staal eager to stay with Wild, ready for Central Division battle
Tyler Seguin on extension talks, new Stars head coach

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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.

USA tops Canada to claim bronze at hockey worlds

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The United States topped Canada 4-1 to claim the bronze medal at the world ice hockey championship on Sunday.

Chris Kreider led the U.S. with two goals.

Forward Nick Bonino scored the winner on a rebound during a power play in the final period. Anders Lee and Kreider added empty-net insurance goals to give the U.S. its third bronze in six years.

”It’s important for the team but it’s also important for USA Hockey,” U.S. captain Patrick Kane said. ”Now, we can build up off this level and try to keep being better and better.”

Kane had an assist in the game to finish the tournament with 20 points for eight goals and 12 assists, the first player to do so since 2008.

”Obviously I’m here to produce and try to create offense and make plays out there,” Kane said. ”Overall, I’m happy … it was a fun tournament and a great experience for me and I hope it will help me with my career going forward too.”

Canada had to settle for a disappointing fourth-place finish.

”We wanted to win gold,” Canada forward Bo Horvat said. ”We wanted to be in the final. It’s not a result we wanted. But we have to take the positives from this experience and bring it to next year.”

Kreider scored the go-ahead goal for the U.S. in the second period, capitalizing on a mistake by Canada captain Connor McDavid.

Canada answered with a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot that went in between the pads of goaltender Keith Kinkaid.

Sweden plays Switzerland for gold later Sunday.

Captained by McDavid, the NHL scoring leader, Canada was considered a contender for gold.

Chasing its third title in four years, Canada suffered losses in the preliminary round to the U.S. and Finland and was stunned by Switzerland 3-2 in the semifinals.

The U.S. had a great start to the tournament with six straight wins. It knocked out the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals but was trashed 6-0 by Sweden in the semis.