The Weekend in hockey: Välimäki's scary time in Dallas, EBUG issues, and the transfer portal
Some stuff that happened this weekend and why it does or doesn't matter.
Reports surfaced late last week that Arizona Coyotes defender Juuso Välimäki was left “unable to function” after boggled treatment from taking a slapshot to the face on Nov. 14 against the Dallas Stars.
Sources told Daily Faceoff that Valimaki was dropped off in the emergency room, like any other patient, and left to advocate for his own care with his wife – who happened to be in Dallas at the road game – and a Coyotes team employee. After initial observation, the overworked Dallas hospital staff told Valimaki to find a local hotel and come back in the morning, that their attention was turned toward more critical incoming trauma patients such as gunshot victims.
The NHL and NHLPA are currently investigating what happened, and Välimäki only got care that night after the NHLPA intervened and as Seravelli notes, had the defender gone back to a hotel to “sleep it off,” he could have potentially asphyxiated on his own blood.
Because the injury happened in Dallas, there was a legitimate question a reader asked me the other day about whether the Stars were at fault.
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And here’s the thing — I don’t know.
The full protocol for this type of medical procedure is not made available to the public or media.
From my read on the situation, everything went right until Välimäki got into the ambulance.
The Stars, like all NHL teams, had two trained doctors within 50 feet of the bench. this is a requirement at all times during an NHL game, and also had a dentist or oral surgeon in the building — another requirement.
Once Välimäki has been examined by the Stars doctors and personal in the arena, they can’t leave the building with him. Once he enters the ambulance he is technically under the care of the hospital, and no longer the responsibility of the arena doctors, who must stay at the game for any other health emergencies.
The Stars, and they’ve worked with the NHLPA on the investigation, seem to have done everything they were supposed to. The bigger question, which we won’t get an answer on, is why doesn’t that hidden protocol have better coverage for something like this?
It’s hard to imagine a player in the NFL or NBA going through a similar struggle. From an NHLPA perspective, this feels like an example going forward that will re-write some protocols in communication when it comes to the player leaving in an ambulance.
It should be noted most NHL teams don’t travel with their own doctor, it’s a hefty expense and one that would effectively force the team to hire a full-time physician — the doctors on call, also have their own day jobs/practices.
For the richer NHL teams, the ones in New York and Toronto, for example, this seems like a non-cap space you can flex your financial might.
The problem with the EBUG
The Dallas Stars had to use an emergency back-up goalie (EBUG) on Saturday, signing Joe O’Brien to an ATO before the game to backup Scott Wedgewood after Jake Oettinger was injured on Friday.
The Stars had to use the ATO because they are so close to the salary cap, they couldn’t recall a goalie. Because they played one game down a player, with 19 NHLers as opposed to 20, they now can recall a goalie from the Texas Stars on emergency basis until Oettinger is healthy.
EBUGs are fun stories, and I’m probably going to get my goalie union card pulled for this next statement — it’s ridiculous that O’Brien was an injury away from playing in an NHL game from the opening faceoff.
I get the EBUG dressing mid-game when one injury happens, but going into a game an NHL game — an entertainment product, people pay for — should never have this type of person on the bench one twisted ankle away from playing.
Look, the David Ayres story vs. Toronto was hilarious and fun. But it was extremely lucky. Most EBUGs are straight up scared of NHL-level shots, and the only reason the Ayres story worked out was because it took place in Toronto, where that level of EBUG was available.
I remember in my time covering the Texas Stars, there was a game Texas needed an EBUG for a full game and Stars coach Willie Desjardins told me that watching warmups, he felt that it would be unsafe for that respective EBUG to enter a game.
Rules exist for a reason, I get it, but there are also times common sense plays out and I keep going back to the bullpen catcher-equivalent the NHL needs to implement.
Credit to former NHL goalie Mike McKenna for this idea, but the concept is each team gets to carry a practice goalie making around $150,000 per season that doesn’t count against the salary cap.
This practice goalie then becomes the EBUG if needed, and if you want to play them in a game after that, you can sign them to a standard NHL contract.
Because of the EBUG, someone like me still has the dream of getting a call to play in the NHL at any moment. That’s fun, and silly, when in reality it cheapens everything about the product of the NHL itself.
And this is coming from (hopefully still) a card-carrying member of the goalie union.
Late last week I spent three days at Team USA’s selection camp for the upcoming World Junior Championship.
My notebook on the event published on EP Rinkside on Sunday, and you can read that here.
Since we are about to become prospect experts on Boxing Day, that’s hockey tradition, it’s good to catch up in that space.
I’ll put together my own casual observers guide to World Junior next week, I think that’ll be fun.
In the meantime, I want to share another story I came across this past week that also relates to goalies, but I found immensely interesting.
For Team USA, the top two goalies are Trey Augustine and Jacob Fowler. The Americans have the best tandem going to Sweden, and either of them could be the starter and lead Team USA to gold.
The third goalie, Sam Hillebrandt, is an 18-year-old playing for the Barrie Colts in the OHL.
As an American goalie, why didn’t he go the college hockey route like Augustine and Fowler?
Blame the transfer portal.
Hillebrandt told me that he only had light interest from NCAA teams, because so many college coaches are holding spots and hope that they’d land an older goalie in the transfer portal.
And right now, as we are still working our way back from the COVID implications, there are more older goalies with eligibility since NCAA athletes that played during the 2019-20 season were give an extra year of eligibility. And because players can transfer once now without sitting out a season, college hockey goalies have become similar to NCAA quarterbacks — if you aren’t starting, you are looking to transfer.
So a young goalie like Hillebrandt got squeezed out and instead of trying to go to the USHL and bide his time, waiting for college hockey to call, he elected to sign with a CHL team and effectively give up his college eligibility.
Hopefully you liked this format for the Monday catchup for a couple hockey stories from the weekend.
Credit to my pal Bob Sturm, over at Sturm Stack, for inspiring this idea in one of our text conversations this weekend.