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NHL needs to leave emergency goalie system exactly as it is

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NHL needs to leave emergency goalie system exactly as it is

You’ve got to hand it to the NHL. They are masterminds when it comes to fixing things that are 100 percent, absolutely not broken.

After making headlines across the world last week with the feel-good story of 42-year-old AHL Zamboni driver and amateur goaltender David Ayres, who stepped in to play emergency goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes in Toronto, the NHL has an eye toward tweaking the EBUG (Emergency Backup Goaltender) rules that allowed it all to happen in the first place.

Ayres exited to an ovation from his fellow Torontoians after stopping eight of 10 shots in Saturday’s Carolina win while earning the “W’ over the Maple Leafs after both James Reimer and Petr Mrazek left the game due to injury.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney was asked about it earlier this week and admitted the whole thing was “great theater” while stopping short of saying the emergency goalie system needed to change.

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“It’s a great story for the person. It’s got a 'Rudy' effect to it. [It] made for great theatre for everybody. I think I’ll hold my comments other than that. We’ve got upcoming meetings and I’m sure it’ll be on the docket as to whether or not we can do something to tweak or improve it,” said Sweeney. “I think that remains to be seen. It’s been an area where we’ve talked about addressing, but I’ll refrain from any further comment other than it was great theatre.”

Ayres is normally the Zamboni driver for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, but he’s also served as a practice goalie for Toronto when the Maple Leafs have needed help occasionally throughout the season.

This is something fairly commonplace within most of the 31 NHL organizations where there’s a need for extra goaltenders to face shots at practice if they want to give their top two guys occasional rest during the season, or to perhaps give rehabbing players somebody to shoot at if the rest of the NHL team is on the road.

Mass. State Trooper and former Salem State College goalie Keith Segee is one of several goaltenders serving the EBUG role for the Boston Bruins during games at TD Garden. Former Northeastern University goaltender Adam Geragosian likewise served as an EBUG for the Black and Gold in the first few seasons after the system was implemented.

The way the EBUG system works is that the emergency goalie at each of the 31 NHL rinks could potentially play for either the home or visiting team if they run into a situation where both goalies get injured during the game.

It happened a couple of seasons ago with the Chicago Blackhawks when they needed accountant Scott Foster to step in and protect a lead for them in a game that the Blackhawks won despite the use of the emergency goalie.

In both instances, Ayres and Foster quickly became folk heroes after making their unexpected NHL debuts and inspired thousands of goalies across the world that maybe someday their number could get called in an EBUG situation. Ayres appeared on the "Today Show" and the "Late Show with Stephen Colbert" during a flurry of media appearances earlier this week and captured national attention like few things in the NHL do during the regular season.

His story as a friendly Canadian rink worker and kidney transplant survivor is exactly the kind of everyman success story that everybody loves and can relate to.

The whole EBUG thing is also exactly the kind of viral marketing event and unique wrinkle that separates the NHL from other sports if the league plays it exactly right. Old school hockey people may scoff at it all and say that dropping a goalie like Ayres into a game with possible playoff implications tarnishes the purity of the game.

This humble hockey writer says that those crusty hockey types need to lighten up and realize that the EBUG scenario is rare, but it’s also something that gives the NHL its own special connection to the fans.

The truth is that the EBUG goalies are uniquely equipped to handle the emergency duties given they have some prior connection with an NHL team, and many of them face NHL caliber shots and situations in practice with their teams. This is why any theoretical doomsday scenarios of amateur goalies getting injured or getting lit up for 10 goals simply don’t make sense.

If these goalies are good enough to participate in an NHL practice setting, then they are good enough to play in an NHL game in a pinch. It’s not like they are randomly pulling somebody out of the stands and strapping goalie equipment on them while asking them to stop 108.8-mph Zdeno Chara slapshots.

The two EBUG goalies who have actually seen action are undefeated, did their jobs and showed that this isn’t a situation where anybody — aside from the Maple Leafs players — should worry about getting embarrassed on the ice. It’s a system that’s literally working as exactly as designed and it’s absurd that the NHL would tinker with it at all.

Fast-forward to today and the NHL is expected to discuss the EBUG rules at the GM Meetings, with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly saying that it comes up whenever the situation for an emergency goalie arises.

“When it happens, it obviously raises everybody’s attention to the issue and whether there are fixes that need to be made to that particular issue,” said Daly. “We want to make sure people aren’t putting themselves in danger by playing in a National Hockey League game.”

Let’s be honest here.

There was no clarion call to change the emergency goalie rules a couple of seasons ago when Foster did the job for Chicago. This is all coming up because the Toronto Maple Leafs were embarrassed by their 42-year-old Zamboni driver beating them with the visiting Hurricanes last weekend, and now there’s a call to change things so something like that doesn’t happen again in the center of the NHL universe in Toronto.

That’s as much reason as anything to not change the current EBUG system when it all worked as well as it did last weekend.

Perhaps logic and common sense will prevail and the NHL will opt to leave things as they are with the emergency goaltenders, but the sneaking suspicion is that the league wants to tinker with something unbroken.

And that’s too bad, because the National Hockey League has stumbled onto something brilliant here, and the league could use a David Ayres-type story or two every season.

Zdeno Chara 'grateful for the opportunity' to play, not focused on NHL playoff format fairness

Zdeno Chara 'grateful for the opportunity' to play, not focused on NHL playoff format fairness

In the aftermath of this week’s NHL announcement about the 24-team playoff format, there has been plenty of talk about fairness, asterisks and whether this plan will even come to fruition this summer as NHL players begin working to get back into playing shape.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara could have complained about the Presidents' Trophy-winning Bruins being forced into protecting their top seed during a round-robin tournament despite pretty much winning it fair and square during the regular season with a month left.

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Chara could have openly wondered about the safeness of an NHL return or talked extensively about whether the Cup champs will be considered regular champions despite so many oddities with this year’s proposed postseason.

Instead, the wise 43-year-old Chara simply showed gratitude that the NHL players might be able to get back to work, and perhaps in doing so can restore some sense of quasi-normalcy to sports fans eager to see games resume.

“The Players' Association with the player reps worked extremely hard to get to this point and come up with something that will be hopefully entertaining and exciting. I think the fans will enjoy it for sure. It’s never a perfect scenario. It’s not going to be set in stone like it would be after an 82-game regular season,” said Chara while speaking with B’s reporters on Zoom call on Thursday morning.

“It’s not going to be perfect. Anytime you’re going to have an unexpected kind of stoppage with teams at different peaks in their season, you had to come up with some sort of solution. What we see is probably the best [solution]. It’s one of those things where you can’t blame anyone or feel that it’s unfair.

For us, we have to be grateful for the opportunity we’re getting. When you look at the real-life perspective at what other people’s families and businesses are going through, we’re getting the chance to basically start back up where we ended the season. A lot of people aren’t getting that same chance. A lot of people lost financial support and businesses went down, and they will never get the same opportunities. We have to be grateful for the opportunity and take it as a huge motivation [and] excitement. [We need] to be grateful and embrace it.

As with most players focused on winning, Chara knows the Bruins will need to overcome all obstacles if they hope to lift the Stanley Cup, and a newfangled playoff format that was a little unfair to them is nothing compared to what’s happening in the world.

Chara is going to be a slam dunk Hall of Fame defenseman when he eventually retires from the Bruins even if that’s probably at least a couple of seasons from now.

But the 6-foot-9 D-man also showed in his answer why he’s a Hall of Fame person with the way he’s still got everything in proper perspective even as fans get a little excited about progress being made toward a return for the NHL season.

NHL announces Bruins have won these three end-of-season awards

NHL announces Bruins have won these three end-of-season awards

The NHL announced on Tuesday the 2019-20 regular season was finished, and as a result, it became time to announce the winners of some end-of-the-year awards.

Some of the awards, including the Hart Trophy for the league's most valuable player, still need to be voted on. Most of them are voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The awards based on stats, however, already have been determined.

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Three of the awards already determined will go to the Boston Bruins. The league officially announced all such awards with a press release Thursday.

Here's a quick recap of the awards won by the Bruins.

Presidents' Trophy
The team that finishes the regular season with the best record wins this award. This is the third time Boston has won the Presidents' Trophy since it was introduced ahead of the 1985-86 season. The B's also have won it in 1990 and 2014. The team that's won this trophy usually fails to win the Stanley Cup. In fact, only nine of the previous 33 Presidents' Trophy winners went on to win the Stanley Cup that same year. However, the last time it  happened was in 2013 when the Chicago Blackhawks won both in a shortened season, so maybe there's hope for the Bruins in 2020!

William M. Jennings Trophy
The Bruins had the best goalie duo in the league with starter Tuukka Rask and backup Jaroslav Halak. Boston finished the season allowing the fewest goals allowed, which means the team's goaltenders have won the William M. Jennings Trophy. Rask led the league with a 2.12 goals against average and 85 goals allowed in 41 appearances, and Halak ranked sixth with a 2.39 GAA and 73 goals allowed in 31 games played. This is the third time (1989-90 and 2008-09 previously) the Bruins have won this award since it was introduced in 1981-82. Rask has won the award for the first time, while Halak now has claimed it twice. Halak shared it with Brian Elliott when they played for the St. Louis Blues durng the 2011-12 campaign.

Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy
The league's leading goal scorer(s) win the award named after Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice Richard. Bruins winger David Pastrnak and Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin both scored 48 goals and will share the trophy. Pastrnak is the first B's player to lead the league in goals since Phil Esposito, who did it in six straight seasons from 1969-70 through 1974-75. Pastrnak fell just shy of becoming Boston's first 50-goal scorer since Cam Neely in 1993-94, but he should have plenty more chances to hit that milestone in the near future. 

Other awards?
It's quite possible the Bruins could take home other end-of-the-season awards. Pastrnak has a case to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy, but it's hard to envision him winning the award over Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon or Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl. Bruins center Patrice Bergeron should be a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which he's already won four times. Rask also is the favorite to win the second Vezina Trophy of his career.

Of course, the real prize for the Bruins is the Stanley Cup. They came so close to winning it last year, and after another dominant regular season, the Bruins are among the favorites to hoist the best trophy in sports later in 2020.