TORONTO – What’s old is new again.
And Auston Matthews is just one of several NHL players happy to see it.
On Tuesday, the National Hockey League pulled its high-tech pucks loaded with tracking chips from games due to user complaint.
Heading into Wednesday’s national showdown against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, Matthews said he noticed a difference both in weight and slide between the 2019-20 pucks and the ones the league rolled out for the first six days of its 2020-21 campaign.
“Actually, [teammate Jason] Spezza was the first one to bring it up to me, and I told him that’s why I couldn’t capitalize on some of these chances I’ve had in the first four games — because these pucks are all messed up,” said Matthews, tongue in cheek.
Matthews, a career 15.5 per shooter, has scored on just one of his NHL-high 21 shots thus far.
The sniper was keeping a lighthearted tone on the topic, but the puck issue was serious enough that multiple players piped up and the league reverted back to using unaltered rubber.
An anonymous NHLer told ESPN Tuesday that the tracking pucks were “terrible” and “don’t slide.”
Spezza and Matthews conducted their own experiment.
“We held one of the regular pucks and one of the new ones, and there was a little bit of a difference in the weight and stuff, but it seemed like sometimes it wasn’t sliding as well as it usually would,” Matthews said.
“Don’t know if that was the ice or pucks. We were pumped we were going back to the regular ones.”
The NHL issued a statement Tuesday explaining “the first supply of 2020-21 pucks did not receive the same precise finishing treatments during the off-season manufacturing process as were used during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs,” when the tracking pucks made their debut.
The league aspires to have a new batch of chip-equipped pucks “available soon,” as its quest to provide more in-game data continues.
“The theory behind player and puck tracking was to give people insights into the game who maybe would learn how special the game is and would understand it a little bit better and so we started with the possibility of having broadcast enhancement,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in 2019.
“But now in the era that we’re in, the opportunities were limitless. If you’re a millennial or a Gen Z in particular and you’re consuming sports differently than it’s ever been consumed before, we’re going to be right there for you giving you what you want.”
McDavid said Wednesday he didn’t notice any difference between pucks: “I guess that’s a good sign.”
Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said the tracking pucks were not a major discussion point around the team or his fellow coaches.
“No matter what it is, both teams are using it,” Keefe said. “So, we’ll adapt to whatever they put out there.”
Still, it’s safe to say Matthews is pleased with the change back to the old normal.
“No more excuses now,” he smiled. “Gotta bury it.”