Binghamton Names Eklund Goaltending Coach; NHL Eyes New Season Plans

Some news to get to today and we will begin with the Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Binghamton Devils, who named Brian Eklund their new goaltending coach. Tom Fitzgerald, Devils Executive Vice President and General Manager made the announcement earlier today.

Eklund previously served as goalie coach for Boston University for the last five seasons. Before coaching with the Terriers, he “was a volunteer assistant coach with Harvard University. The press release put out by the Devils notes that “in his time with the Crimson, Eklund’s goaltenders set records in wins, saves and starts, and also won the 2015 ECAC tournament.”

Eklund, a former collegiate goalie at Brown University from 1998 to 2002, played “in one regular season NHL contest (Nov. 8, 2005) over his six-year professional career.” In a neat twist, he was the third goalie for the Lightning in the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs and, as such, is the owner of a Stanley Cup championship ring.

He was picked 226th overall in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by Tampa Bay and played three seasons in the AHL, two for the Springfield Falcons and one for the Providence Thunderbirds. He played a total of 73 games in the AHL, finishing with a 2.95 goals against average and an .874 save percentage according to the press release.

The press release notes that he spent three professional seasons in the ECHL with the Pensacola Ice Pilots and the Johnstown Chiefs. In the ECHL, he played 83 seasons and posted a 3.15 GAA and a .916 save percentage. The PR staff also said that, in the 2003-04 season, he set league records “for most minutes played in one season (3,724), saves in one season (2,194) an most saves in a playoff game (83; 2-1 2OT loss).”

The 40-year-old native of Braintree, Massachusetts also owns a goalie school in the state called Massachusetts Crease “designed to develop aspiring goalies.”

In other, more broad NHL news, Nicholas J. Cotsonika had an article on the NHL website today that outlined Commissioner Gary Bettman’s plan to get back on the ice for the 2020-21 season.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered a lot of our lives and the NHL will be no different. The league, according to remarks by Bettman on Tuesday, said that “he would never ask players to return to a bubble fort an entire season.” That is how the 2019-20 season and 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs ended up, from July 25 to September 28 in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.

Bettman told Cotsonika that the league would try to get teams to be able to play “in their own arenas (with or without fans depending on the local situation), in hubs or in a hybrid system.”

Cotsonika said that “any plan would be a collaborative effort between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association, as was the 2020 Return to Play Plan. Though both sides are in constant and regular communication, there haven’t been any regular meetings.”

The plan, as it stands now would see teams, if in a bubble, “to rotate in and out.” The Commissioner “said in a virtual panel discussion during the 2020 Paley International Council Summit” he was on with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver: “You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need. It’s not going to be quite as effective as a bubble, but we think we can, if we go this route, minimize the risks to the extent practical and sensible. And so that’s one of the things that we’re talking about.”

Bettman also said that while the league has tried to target January 1 as a start date, “how the season starts is not necessarily how it will finish, depending on how the situation evolves.”

There is one major factor in all of this: the United States-Canada border. There is “closure to nonessential travel” between the two countries. Bettman joked that they are not “going to move all seven Canadian franchises south of the 49th Parallel, and so we have to look at alternative ways to play.” In addition, he noted that certain states have quarantining for travelers from other states within the US.

Bettman said that they need to be “flexible” and that, “as it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, and that may make sense, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense.”

He continued by saying that “it may be that we’re better off, particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating, keeping it geographically centric, more divisional based, and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues.”

On the topic of fans, Cotsonika noted that, which the NHL returned in July, “it had to transform itself into a studio sport, tailoring the game presentation to a TV audience.”

Bettman, on this topic, said that “what we were doing was trying to create an energy and excitement and coverage of our game that would be compelling in the absence of fans.”

As TV ratings were down for the NHL (as, Cotsonika says, they were for all sports), Bettman made two excuses points: “One, fans in the stands give games energy that comes through on television, and some of that was missed.” (The Florida Panthers would like to have a word….)

And, “two, research showed that while avid fans would watch the NHL at any time, casual fans were less inclined to watch in the summer.” (Ahh, yes, the mythical “casual fans” who are either fans of all teams or none.)

So, the Commissioner thinks, “that’s where … a lot of the falloff came. And while we’re in the middle of working on our return to play as well, which I hope to have put to bed soon, our goal is to get back to normal schedule starting [next] fall and being done before July on a longer-term basis. That is the goal.”

Manfred applauded how the NHL in how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that MLB could learn how to handle things a little bit better and that “maybe it’s not about playing through it, maybe what you’ve really got to worry about is making sure it doesn’t spread.”

In speaking to Bettman, Manfred realized that they were going to have “shutdowns” and “accepted the fact that we were going to have to reschedule to get through.” He credited Bettman with helping him see a different approach.

Whatever they decide, and regional divisions with realignment and a reduced schedule seems to be the way they are leaning, it will just be good to get some hockey on our television screens again soon.

Devils Ink Kulikov; Round Out Coaching Staff

The Devils made two moves over the last two days, helping to shore up the defense and complete Lindy Ruff’s coaching staff.

Firstly, yesterday they signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a one-year contract worth $1,150,000. Kulikov was a free agent last with the Winnipeg Jets.

Executive Vice President/General Manager Tom Fitzgerald, who made the announcement, said: “Kulikov is an experienced, physical left-shot defenseman who skates well. His ability to play both the right and left side brings value to our defense corps.”

The 29-year-old blueliner from Lipetsk, Russia had a pair of goals and eight assists (10 points) last year for Winnipeg in 51 games. He also had two assists in the Jets’ Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Calgary Flames in which he played four games.

But scoring is not what sets him apart. He averaged just over 20 minutes of ice time (20:01 according to the press release put out on the matter), and, as Fitzgerald noted, is physical and versatile. His time on ice average was “third amongst Winnipeg defensemen” in 2019-20.

Kulikov is well-traveled. He was drafted 14th overall in the first round of the 2009 Draft by the Florida Panthers. He has since played with Buffalo and the Jets. His best season was 2011-12 when he had career highs in assists with 24 and points with 28 in 56 games played for the Panthers.

He has a career total of 35 goals, 135 assists totaling 170 points over eleven seasons in the NHL. He also has a career average of 19:57 of TOI – showing his reliability and versatility. In the playoffs, he has participated in 24 games with one goal and six assists (seven points) to go with 18 penalty minutes.

He played a season for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec League prior to moving to the NHL. The press release notes that in his only season in Drummondville, the Voltigeurs went to the President Cup Final, the league championship series. He played 57 games in the “Q” notching 12 goals and 50 assists (62 points) and was named the 2008 QMJHL Defenseman of the Year, Rookie of the Year and got First Team All-Star honors.

Internationally, he has skated for Russia at the 2007 World Junior Championship, winning gold that year and the 2008 World Juniors where he won a silver. He was also a part of the Russian team that won bronze at the 2009 World Juniors. He also won silver at the 2010 and 2015 World Championships.

Not a bad under-the-radar signing for the Devils as he gives them a little more size (Kulikov is 6-feet, 1-inch and 205-pounds) and physicality on the backend.

In other news, the Devils completed Lindy Ruff’s coaching staff by hiring Chris Taylor as an assistant and Dave Rogalski as the goalie coach today. Taylor and Rogalski will join Alain Nasreddine and Mark Recchi on the Devils coaching staff.

Taylor, 48-years-old and a native of Stratford, Ontario, has been a coach at the American Hockey League-level since 2011. He was first named as a Development Coach for the Rochester Americans in 2011-12. He served as an assistant with the Americans from 2012 to 2016. He spent 2016-17 as an assistant with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before returning to the Buffalo Sabres’ organization the following season to serve as Rochester’s head coach.

As the coach of the Amerks, Taylor made the Calder Cup Playoffs in two of his three seasons and, as the press release notes, “was on pace in this third [season] with the Americans.” He was promoted during the 2019-20 season to be an interim assistant coach with the Sabres for two months.

He finished his AHL head coaching time with a record of 116-65-33 in 214 games and was named coach of the North Division a the AHL All-Start Classic in Ontario, California this past January. Over his entire time in Rochester (as an assistant and head coach), the Americans were 239-204-57 gaining 571 points over 518 games. Likewise, when he was with the Baby Pens, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had a record of 43-27-6, recording 92 points. They lost in the Conference Semi-Finals that season.

Another new face will be Rogalski, a 39-year-old native of St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Rogalski was the Goaltender Development Coach for the St. Louis Blues from 2017-2020, helping the Blues win the Stanley Cup in 2019 through his work with then-rookie goalie Jordan Binnington.

In his role with the Blues, Rogalski “was responsible for the training, film breakdown, and skill development of the Blues’ young goaltenders and scouting goaltenders for the NHL Draft. He also crafted video packages and reports on opposing goaltenders and would visit goaltenders throughout the St. Louis system.”

Rogalski started coaching in 2010 for St. Cloud State University where he served as their goalie coach. He spent the next six years in the NCAA before moving to the United States Hockey League where he was named Goaltending Consultant for the Sioux Falls Stampede in 2016.

The press release put out by the Devils notes that Rogalski was a goalie for NCAA Division III St. Mary’s University from 2001 to 2003. He appeared in 16 games for the Cardinals, finishing his college career with a 3.78 goals against average and an .880 save percentage.