By Brent Savidant | Ottawa Sports Journal Staff
Like most Ottawa Senators fans, I get as much (or more) joy from a Toronto Maple Leafs' loss as I do from an Ottawa Senators win. So I watched with glee when the Toronto Marlies’ Zamboni driver suited up for the Carolina Hurricanes two Saturdays ago and beat the Maple Leafs. By now, every sports fan in North America is aware that the Blue Team was only able to direct 10 shots and 2 goals on Emergency Backup Goalie David Ayres in a must-win game on Hockey Night in Canada. Oh, and by the way, Ayres was also the recipient of a kidney transplant in 2004.
Ayres experienced a media whirlwind the week following his big win, and rightfully so. Starting with the post-game interview while wearing the obligatory Hockey Night in Canada towel around his neck, Ayres made appearances on The Dan LeBatard Show, Golic and Wingo, Today show, ProHockeyTalk, Da Show, Fox & Friends, World Sport, The Dan Patrick Show and The Late Show. These shows are on different networks in the United States and cater to a wide variety of demographics and political leanings. However they all have one thing in common: They NEVER, EVER discuss NHL hockey.
David Ayers’ experience on Hockey Night in Canada did something that few NHL superstars have ever been able to do: put the NHL in the media spotlight in the United States for one solid week.
The impact of the David Ayres story was global. I have a close family friend in the Netherlands who emailed me the day after Ayres’ victory, asking me if I had seen the game. People across the planet connected to the story of a regular guy getting an opportunity to play on the greatest stage, if only for 28 minutes.
In response to this unprecedented publicity, there is word out of the league office that the NHL is considering eliminating the Emergency Backup Goalie (EBUG). Attempting to stomp out positive publicity is a particular skill of the NHL front office. Exhibit A would be in 2016, when NHL Deputy Commissioner John Daly encouraged John Scott to drop out of All Star Game so as not to embarrass his family. It is clear following the David Ayres Experience that NHL fans love the notion of an EBUG, and the EBUG should stay.
I understand the concern related to the EBUG. David Ayres the Zamboni Driver could have been lit up for 10 goals on national television. And after giving up 2 goals on the first 2 shots he faced, it certainly looked like that was going to happen. But it didn’t. Ayres settled in after the second intermission and was fine for the rest of the game, stopping all 7 shots he faced in the third period. Disaster diverted. But the NHL was put on notice of the possibility of an EBUG situation going horribly wrong.
So here is my solution to the EBUG “problem”. I would suggest a few minor tweaks to the EBUG. First, there should be minimum standards for an EBUG. Every EBUG should have played at a minimum level of Junior A or minor pro. Second, an EBUG should be required to be on the ice at practice facing NHL shots a minimum number of times per month. Third, the EBUG should be an NHL employee, not the employee of individual teams. This eliminates the optics of an EBUG playing against their employer. That’s it. Problem solved.
If done right, the NHL could score a marketing coup with the EBUG. Each team could hold open tryouts for the EBUG. Each team’s EBUGs could compete in competition at the NHL All Star Game. The EBUG could be announced before every NHL game. The marketing possibilities are endless. Fans connect to the EBUG concept, and the NHL should embrace it.
NHL teams should not be required to carry three goalies on road trips. There is little value taking a goalie that is in the team’s system on a road trip, knowing he will see limited shots in practice or games. It is better for their professional development that play in the AHL or ECHL. So what about requiring each NHL team to take an EBUG on all road trips?
Increasing responsibility will mean increasing salary. There are NHL owners who have traded superstar players over a few hundred thousand dollars in salary. There is no way they are going to want to pay this for a goalie that is, in all likelihood, never going to play even one second in an NHL game. And what talented goalie is going to be able to travel with an NHL team to 41 away games without giving up their day job? The logistics simply do not work.
The EBUG has been forced into action exactly twice in the modern era. The first time was on March 29, 2018 when Scott Foster played 14 minutes for the Chicago Blackhawks, stopping 7 of 7 shots in a 6-2 win. David Ayres was the second.
I can think of one other event that has happened exactly twice in the modern era: Players getting their throats slashed open by skates and nearly dying on the ice. It happened to Clint Malarchuk in 1989 and to Richard Zednik in 2008. These injuries were gruesome and horrifying and were it not for swift action by medical personnel and trainers, either player could have easily died.
The NHL implemented exactly zero rule changes following these scary incidents. Yet the risk of neck injury remains the same. I would suggest the need for a rule change regarding the EBUG is not urgent, certainly less urgent than the need to require neck guards.