What we learned from the last week of play in the NHL:
Olympic picture still unsettled
To no one’s surprise, the NHL Players’ Assn. rejected the NHL’s proposal that the union agree to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for the league’s support of players’ participation at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Players are unhappy with the current escrow provision and saw no reason to throw away an opt-out clause in 2019 and lock themselves into potentially big escrow payments through 2025.
But neither side has shut the door on an Olympic return, and Donald Fehr, the NHLPA’s executive director, is a big proponent of international play. The International Ice Hockey Federation has said it will pay for transportation, insurance and accommodations — costs previously paid by the International Olympic Committee — but the NHL still wants some form of compensation for shutting down its operations during the Games. A decision is likely early next year.
The trip from obscurity to the NHL can be quick
On Saturday morning, Eric Semborski was coaching kids at the Philadelphia Flyers’ practice facility. By the afternoon he was in a Chicago Blackhawks uniform, signed to an amateur tryout contract to be their emergency backup goaltender behind Scott Darling after Corey Crawford underwent an appendectomy.
Semborski, who played club hockey at Temple and grew up a Flyers fan, called the warmups “the best 20 minutes of my life.” He didn’t get into the game but he got a wealth of memories.
The call for an emergency backup goalie usually goes out a few times each season around the NHL, moments that produce delightful stories about guys living out their long-discarded dreams. Rob Laurie, a former roller hockey player in Southern California, might own the unofficial record for most emergency backup appearances: Over the past few seasons he has dressed for the Ducks, Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild.
The Flyers are on a roll, with a five-game winning streak that’s their longest since March of 2014 and wins in seven of their last 10 games. One key reason for the surge that put them in the first East wild-card spot through Sunday’s games: goalie Steve Mason, who has won four straight games, posting a 1.71 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in that span.
Also in the forefront is winger Wayne Simmonds, who scored two power-play goals in a 4-2 victory Sunday at Nashville with his father, Cyril, in the audience during the Flyers’ annual father-son trip. Wayne Simmonds has established himself as a fearsome net-front presence and ranks among the league leaders with 13 goals. He shared the NHL lead in power-play goals (seven) and was tied for second in power-play points (12) behind teammate Claude Giroux (13).
Flames are stirring
Johnny Gaudreau’s early recovery from a fractured finger seemed to inspire the Calgary Flames, who scored eight goals for the first time since March, 22, 2014, in an 8-3 rout of the Ducks on Sunday. Disappointing for most of the first quarter of the season, the Flames have regrouped well enough to win three straight and go 6-3-1 in their last 10. With their next two games against teams that trail them in the standings — Dallas and Arizona — the Flames have a chance to keep their momentum going.