Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Rumblings: International play, shootout spins and goalie police
By Pierre LeBrun
The NHL’s international future could get clearer next week when the league and the NHL Players’ Association meet and delve deeper into details pertaining to the World Cup of Hockey and NHL regular-season games in Europe.
It is still undecided what form, exactly, the return of the Premiere Games in Europe will have. For five straight seasons from 2007 through 2011, the NHL held regular-season games in Europe to open the season.
One idea that seems to have the most traction is to hold the games around late October instead of at the beginning of the regular season, as had previously been done. Given that most NHL teams have already booked their preseason games for next season, it would make sense to delay the event later into October.
A high of six NHL teams took part in the Premiere Games in October 2010 (four in 2011 when it was last held), but it’s expected that next season the number will be either four teams or just two clubs.
Meanwhile, there has been debate about whether the World Cup of Hockey -- not held since September 2004 -- would return either in the fall of 2015 or the fall of 2016, but as my colleague Elliotte Friedman reported over the weekend on "Hockey Night In Canada" and a source also told ESPN.com, it’s almost a given if the tournament returns that it would be in September 2015; the idea being that it would avoid going up against the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.
What is not expected to be a focus when the NHLPA and NHL meet next week is future participation in the Olympics. It’s no sure thing the NHL will continue to take part past Sochi, but if it does, I suspect both the players and owners will want further concessions from the IOC after Sochi. Of course, how things go in Sochi will also have a major impact on that conversation. The players have more desire than the owners to continue with the Olympics, but if the experience in Sochi is sour, that could have an impact. Either way, the prevailing sense is that both sides want to wait until after Sochi to see how it goes before continuing that discussion.
Spin-o-rama debateMason Raymond's spin-o-rama shootout goal against Ottawa over the weekend sparked renewed controversy.
This is nothing new. When he did it in Vancouver over the past few seasons, the same type of debate would erupt. But it’s all about timing, and center stage on "Hockey Night In Canada" will get you some attention.
Senators head coach Paul MacLean didn’t like the goal but technically speaking, Raymond’s goal was OK.
The rule stipulates a spin-o-rama goal on a shootout is OK as long as there’s continuous motion and the puck doesn’t stop at any point -- or the player reverses.
The goal would also be disallowed if the goalie is interfered with.
Raymond absolutely knows what the rule is.
"You’re walking a fine line, but it’s high risk, high reward," Raymond said Tuesday after the Leafs’ morning skate at Air Canada Centre.
It’s a move the league isn’t enamored with, though.
"We’ve discussed the spin-o-rama at several GMs meetings over the past years, based on the fact it’s a move that has an aspect to it that a lot of managers thought was illegal," Colin Campbell, the NHL’s executive vice president and director of hockey operations, told ESPN.com on Tuesday.
"Such as the player backing into the goaltending, the reversal of motion from the shooter or the puck stopping; based upon that and the difficulty in recognizing that, and the time it takes to review it on video, it takes away a bit from the shootout.
"My personal opinion is that we expose the goaltenders to an extreme situation with the shootout itself, if it extends past beyond the three shooters. I don’t think we should expose them to a spin-o-rama move that’s not even a normal move in practice."
And certainly from the goalies’ perspective, no question they’re not big fans of it.
Leafs netminder James Reimer was sitting just a few feet from Raymond on Tuesday morning but couldn’t lie.
"I’ll preface it by saying more power to him, because it’s not illegal now, so it’s a legal move and go for it," Reimer said, chuckling as he looked in Raymond’s direction. "But I hate it. To me it goes against the rules and they allow it. The puck stops. I don’t know, it’s interesting. But I’m not a fan of it at all. I told Mason: 'I’m glad you’re on my team and we got the point, but I hate that move.'"
Raymond said he got a text from former Canucks pal Roberto Luongo in the wake of Saturday night’s spin-o-rama goal which read: "What was that?"
In all seriousness, though, because these types of goals are so tough to judge, the league’s hockey operations department recommended last season at the March GMs meeting that they be nixed. The GMs agreed, but when it came to the players signing off in the summer, the answer was "No." The players didn’t see the merit in eliminating an exciting play.
"It’s a bit of creativity," Raymond said. "It’s fun for the fans. But at the same time, you can get a lot more points in the shootout, that was another point in the standings for us. I’m glad they never took it out. It’s a move I’ve had success with and I enjoy doing. It’s not one you use every day."
Now, if the NHL really, really, really wanted to get rid of the spin-o-rama, it would just do that and then invite the NHLPA to grieve the matter. But a spin-o-rama move in a shootout isn’t seen as worthy enough for the league to pick a legal fight with the players over.
I’ve got the solution for everyone: Let’s ban shootouts and institute 3-on-3 overtime instead after the 4-on-4 period. Right?
"I’d be up for that," Reimer said.
Berube in chargeNo question there are some people who question an in-house hire in Philly in the wake of Peter Laviolette’s firing as head coach. But former Flyers head coach John Stevens knows Craig Berube, who was an assistant on his staff both with the Flyers and AHL Phantoms. Berube and Stevens also broke into pro hockey together as players with AHL Hershey in the mid-1980s.
"Craig is a good hockey man with excellent people skills," Stevens, an assistant coach with the Kings, told ESPN.com via text message.
Colorado Avalanche winger Steve Downie played for Berube both in the AHL and NHL while with the Flyers organization and his eyes lit up Tuesday morning at Air Canada Centre when asked for his reaction to Berube’s promotion.
"I think it’s a really good fit," Downie said. "He’s a players’ coach. He demands the best out of players, and I really think it’s going to be good for Philly."
One recurring comment I got from other hockey people I reached out to is that the former tough guy would demand accountability from his players.
"He’s a big believer in accountability," said one hockey person who knows Berube.
But as another source said, "His biggest problem is that defense corps; it’s really, really slow."
To unlock the offense in Philadelphia, Berube is going to need to find a way to improve the team’s transition game and that starts with that defense corps making better decisions, more swiftly and coming out of their zone.
Easier said than done.
Goalie policeKay Whitmore was on hand at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday for the morning’s game-day skates, as he often is.
Whitmore, senior manager with the NHL’s hockey operations department in Toronto, is better known as the goalie police. All pieces of NHL goaltending equipment go through his office before netminders can wear them in an NHL game. But the bigger trick is keeping an eye on just what’s being worn throughout the season, even more of an issue this season with the reduced goalie pads and paddle instituted in the offseason.
To that end, Whitmore will be doing more traveling this season to keep an eye on things.
"I’ll be going around more, doing more unexpected visits to rinks around the league," Whitmore told ESPN.com.
Any goalie caught cheating faces a two-game suspension, the team gets charged a $25,000 fine and the poor ol’ equipment manager gets dinged $1,000.