Not pulling goalies: NHL's emergency backups staying

Zamboni driver reflects on filling in as emergency NHL goalie (1:02)

Emergency backup goalie David Ayres says he was weak in the knees after having to step on the ice and play for the Hurricanes against the Maple Leafs. (1:02)

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- NHL general managers discussed the league's emergency backup goaltending protocol at their regularly scheduled March meetings on Monday but decided not to make any changes to the procedure.

"At the end of the discussion, the majority was happy with where we are at on it," NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell said. "It's a good human-interest story. I think the process works ...our general managers are fine with where it's at right now."

Emergency backup goaltenders (or EBUGs) became a hot topic after 42-year-old Zamboni driver David Ayres was forced into action last month during a Hurricanes versus Maple Leafs game when both of Carolina's goaltenders exited with injury. Ayres, a regular participant at practices for the Maple Leafs and their minor league affiliate, let in two goals on the first two Maple Leafs shots he faced but then recorded eight straight saves to earn a win for Carolina. The Hurricanes arranged a publicity tour for Ayres afterward, which included appearances on several ESPN programs, the "Today" show and "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert."

"I think everyone realizes that it's a great story for the league," NHL senior VP of communications Gary Meagher said. "I know there was some coverage that we were going to take the fun out of the game, and there was never any discussion of that. I think everyone realized the coverage and how awesome it was."

The discussion about backup goaltending happened at a breakout session on Monday that included Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas and Carolina general manager Don Waddell. Dubas and Waddell shared the experience of the night from their perspectives.

"It's such a rare occurrence," Vegas Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. "It's only being discussed because it happened recently, and to act would be knee-jerk."

NHL officials said during Monday's meeting that few changes to the current system were suggested.

Three years ago at the GM meetings, a proposal was submitted to have rosters include a third goaltender who travels with the team. That proposal did not pass, and the GMs didn't have an appetite to revisit it this year.

"We've heard coaches say they don't want a third goaltender around," Meagher said. "There are obviously CBA [collective bargaining agreement] issues, but if everyone agreed that was the route to go, you'd work through those issues. You'd figure out a way."

The current EBUG protocol was devised after an incident involving the Florida Panthers in 2015. After Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya were injured in a March 3, 2015 game, Panthers goaltending coach Rob Tallas suited up to be the backup.

The NHL then devised a new system, where teams submit a list of amateur goaltenders to the league who will be on-call during games and available to either team should they need it. The NHL says it has 136 registered emergency pre-approved backups on file across the 31 NHL teams. The number varies market-to-market, and there is no standardized vetting process. Some teams hold tryouts while others identify players based off past playing credentials.

An EBUG called into action will sign an amateur tryout agreement with the club before taking the ice. The league said the contract is for $0, though the EBUG can keep his game-used jersey. The NHL also wanted to clarify that Ayres is not an employee of the Maple Leafs, which had been widely reported.

Ayres is the second emergency goaltender to enter NHL action in the past three years; Chicago-area accountant Scott Foster came into a 2018 game for the Blackhawks, and saved all seven shots he faced over the final 14 minutes.

The NHL noted there have been roughly 6,000 games since the 2015 Panthers, and emergency backups have had to dress only twice: Ayres this season and Foster in 2018.

In 2016, the Carolina Hurricanes put equipment manager Jorge Alves in for the last 7.6 seconds of a game. Alves did not face any shots. However, the NHL doesn't technically count that incident, as the Hurricanes -- who were down 3-1 to the Lightning -- were just trying to get Alves in for game action.

"It's getting a lot of attention now," Panthers GM Dale Tallon said. "But it's happened three times in 50 years. The system we've put into place works."