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Monday’s NHL: Former Wings coach Mike Babcock joins NBC Sports

Associated Press

Mike Milbury is out and Mike Babcock is in for NBC Sports’ coverage of the NHL this season.

Milbury had been with the network since 2008 after coaching the Bruins and serving as coach and general manager of the Islanders. He stepped away from broadcasting during the 2020 playoffs after drawing widespread criticism for saying players should be more focused in the league’s coronavirus bubble because there were “not even any women here to disrupt your concentration.”

Former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will work for NBC Sports as an analyst during its NHL coverage this season.

“It’s an unfortunate situation with Mike,” executive producer Sam Flood said Monday. “Mike is a friend. He’s a unique talent, and he’s given a lot to NBC and the NHL over the years. It was time to separate for a number of reasons.”

Asked later for details, Flood declined to elaborate. Milbury’s ouster is the second in less than a year for the NHL on NBC, which parted ways with Jeremy Roenick in February after suspending the former player for making inappropriate comments about coworkers.

In a statement, NBC Sports said: “We are grateful to Mike for all of his contributions to our coverage for 14 years, but he will not be returning to our NHL announce team. We wish him well.”

Milbury in August apologized for his on-air remark about women, saying in a statement: “It was not my intention to disrespect anyone. I was trying to be irreverent and took it a step too far. It was a regrettable mistake that I take seriously.”

Babcock, an NHL head coach for 17 seasons, joins NBC Sports more than a year after being fired by Toronto. The 2008 Stanley Cup-winning coach came under fire late last year for tactics that some considered to be mental abuse.

Flood said a representative for Babcock reached out about doing some work during the playoffs, and the network decided in light of pandemic protocols to wait until this season. Asked twice on a season-opening conference call about the decision to hire Babcock, Flood gave terse, brief answers.

“We looked at everything,” Flood said. “We’ve had a full process of conversations, as we do with anyone we bring in onto the team.”

Flood said he got to know Babcock more than a decade ago and called him “a fascinating, insightful man. I think he’ll be a great addition to the team.”

NBC isn’t naming a replacement for Mike “Doc” Emrick after he retired from his role as the top play-by-play announcer. Kenny Albert, John Forslund and Brendan Burke headline the group in 2021.

Former U.S. women’s hockey star AJ Mleczko will again be a game analyst, with current player Kendall Coyne Schofield making recurring appearances in the booth while also serving as player development coach for Chicago.

“I’m so excited to be able to call these games that I’ll be able to,” Mleczko said. “I’m also thrilled to be back with the NBC team.”

Outdoor games planned

The NHL played outdoors in the shadow of the Green Monster at Fenway Park, on consecutive days at Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium, and at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

This year’s outdoor games will be in a unique, picturesque setting: along the shores of Lake Tahoe.

The NHL announced it will hold two games on an outdoor rink set up at Edgewood Golf Course in Stateline, Nevada.

Vegas will play Colorado on Feb. 20 and Boston faces Philadelphia on Feb. 21 on a temporary rink set up on the 18th hole at Edgewood, site of the annual American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament.

“We went to Tahoe, a very small group, and we were blown away by the setting, the blank canvas that it presents for us,” NHL chief content producer Steve Mayer said. “It’s hosted major events before. We felt very confident, especially in a short time frame, that we would be able to hold a world-class event and Tahoe will a great host. It was a pretty easy decision.”

The NHL is trying to navigate a season outside a bubble environment during the coronavirus pandemic and already has experienced what deputy commissioner Bill Daly called a “classic outbreak” within the Dallas Stars. With six players and two staffers testing positive for the virus, Dallas won’t play until Jan. 19 at the earliest, the league said.

“We’re still trying to get our arms around exactly how the spread occurred,” Daly said. “We think we’re at the end. We hope we’re at the end of that outbreak, and everybody is recovering nicely and being cared for and doing what they need to do to get healthy.”

The league doesn’t have a hard and fast rule on how many players it would take being unavailable to postpone a game. Each team has a taxi squad of four to six players this season to add to a roster of up to 23.

The NHL has been conducting outdoor games since 2003 and the two in the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe event will be the 31st and 32nd in the series.

Doan returns

The Coyotes announced the longtime former captain Shane Doan has been hired as chief hockey development officer.

Doan will serve as a strategic advisor to owner Alex Meruelo and general manager Bill Armstrong, supporting the business and hockey operations departments.

Doan spent all 21 NHL seasons with the Coyotes, starting with the franchise’s last season in Winnipeg before moving to the desert in 1996. He served as Arizona’s captain the final 13 years of his career before retiring after the 2016-17 season.

A two-time NHL All Star, Doan holds numerous team records, including games played, goals, assists and points. His No. 19 was retired by the team in 2019.