What the NHL and NHLPA might discuss next summer once current CBA expires

This has not been an easy summer for the NHL by any means. Perhaps the post-Game 7 Vancouver riots acted as an ominous introduction for months in which most of the biggest stories were negative. From more manageable headaches like Drew Doughty’s contract holdout situation to stomach-churning issues such as Sidney Crosby’s battle with post-concussion syndrome and the troubling series of enforcer deaths, the notion that next season cannot come soon enough takes on added meaning in 2011.

Yet as bad as things have been lately, next summer could be foreboding in its own right for a reason few of us even want to consider: the possibility of another lockout. The league seems like it’s in much, much better shape heading into the summer of 2012 than it did going into the summer of 2004, but the fear is there since the Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire.

The good news is that the NHL isn’t likely to shoot for enormous changes like instituting a salary cap or attempting to radically improve the style of play (among other alterations that the damaging 2004-05 lockout gave way to). That doesn’t mean that the league and its players association won’t be locked in some tough battles, though.

Tony Gallagher took a look at some of the hot button issues that will likely be discussed next summer as the parties try to hash out another CBA. It’s a piece worth reading from top to bottom, but PHT will take a look at some of the most interesting bits.

Let’s start things off on two issues that might have an impact on the league’s poorest teams.

In speaking to a number of informed people around the league on both sides of the fence, it’s clear that one of the league’s biggest problems within the present agreement is the obligation to enforce a floor on the genuinely pathetic franchises around the league.

The teams that have been losing money and crying wolf for the past 10 years are now being forced to pay out in the neighbourhood of US$45 million, which is forcing them into a position of losing money in some cases, and the league will be looking toward either lowering the floor or eliminating it altogether. That is something the players will likely vigorously defend.

(snip)

The Torontos, Montreals and Vancouvers keep handing over money to the same dud franchises year after year with the question being whether that will continue to be the case, and if so, will that pool of money increase or decrease? And how will it be comprised going forward.

A particularly wrangling issue is all playoff teams having to contribute one-third of all revenue sharing from their first-round take, a system that actually rewards franchises (most notably Toronto) for missing the playoffs.

That’s the interesting thing about the current CBA; there are provisions that both hurt and help the league’s less successful teams. (Then again, the high cap floor/playoff revenue sharing combo might have the worst impact on not-so-deep-pocketed clubs like the Nashville Predators, who use their guile more often than big pay checks to make the playoffs.) To make things fair, the league probably wouldn’t want to eliminate the salary cap floor without keeping a minimum payroll for teams who want to benefit from shared revenue.

Naturally, the big money questions will be the biggest sticking points. The other major money matter is guaranteed contracts (and owners’ urges to do away with them). Considering the dangers involved in the sport, it would be a hard sell to roll back guarantees. After all, who’s going to want to risk breaking a bone by blocking a shot if they could lose their job shortly afterward?

Gallagher’s most interesting point comes late in the article, where he claims that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA head Donald Fehr have already won some big labor battles in their day, so they might be more willing to avoid a big standoff. It would be great if that ends up being true, but we’ll need to wait and see if that bit of sunshine turns out to be the light at the end of a (hopefully short) negotiating tunnel or just an example of an incorrect but educated guess.

Click here to read more about the probable talking points during the 2012 CBA meetings.

Canadiens shutting Shea Weber down indefinitely

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Just one game into a seven-game road trip, the Canadiens announced on Monday that Shea Weber has returned to Montreal and will be shut down for further evaluation. At this point there is no timetable for his return to the lineup, but it seems that he will be sidelined for at least the foreseeable future.

According to coach Claude Julien, Weber is dealing with a nagging foot injury that had previously kept him out of the lineup for six games last month.

Weber was able to return to the lineup on Dec. 2 but the injury has not completely healed.

“Shea has a nagging foot injury,” Julien said on Monday, via the Canadiens’ website. It had improved to the point that he was ready to return, but then it got worse and we had to send him back to Montreal. We’ll keep him off the ice until we figure out what’s going on.

“It’s a long season, and it’s the type of injury that he couldn’t continue playing with. We’ll manage it properly over the next couple of days and weeks.”

In 26 games this season Weber has six goals and 16 assists for the Canadiens.

The Canadiens are desperate for points and are now going to be without their top defenseman. Entering play on Monday the Canadiens are three points back of the Boston Bruins for the third spot in the Atlantic Division, but have played three additional games. They also find themselves seven points back of the New York Islanders for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

It also has to be a concern for the Canadiens to have a 32-year-old defenseman that is still signed for eight more years at nearly $8 million per season that has this sort of nagging injury that keeps sidelining him.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

This might be Alex Ovechkin’s most impressive goal scoring season yet

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It is the middle of December and Alex Ovechkin is in a familiar spot at the top of the NHL’s goal scoring leaderboard.

After scoring in each of the Capitals’ past two games, he finds himself tied with Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot with 23 goals.

He is trying to win what would be his seventh goal scoring crown (something only Bobby Hull has done) and is on pace to top the 50-goal mark for the eighth time.

Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (nine each) have more.

Even for Ovechkin, a player that has made a habit out of scoring 50 goals and winning goal scoring crowns, it is a standout performance for two big reasons.

The first being that he is rebounding from what was (by Ovechkin’s standards) a “down” year in 2016-17 when he finished with the second lowest goal output of his career (33) and the lowest even-strength goal performance (16). Remember the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons when his goal-scoring slumped to a more human level and everyone freaked out that he was done as an elite player or goal-scorer? Same thing kind of happened a season ago, even if to a lesser extent. He rebounded then, and he is rebounding now.

The second is that he is defying age and not only besting the rest of the league when it comes to scoring goals, but also father time.

So far this season Ovechkin has already topped his even-strength goal total from a season ago (17 as of Monday) and is on a pace to score 55 goals.

[Is Alex Ovechkin clutch?]

The second number is the big one because if he is able to maintain that pace (do you want to bet against him maintaining it? I don’t) it would be a pretty historic performance for no other reason than the fact almost nobody scores goals at this level at this age.

Ovechkin turned 32 years old just before the start of the 2017-18 season and is still the most dominant goal scorer in the league.

This is almost unheard of in an era of the NHL.

A few things to consider, just for historical context here

• Only four players in league history have scored at least 50 goals in a season in their age 32 season or older. John Bucyk (51) did it during the 1970-71 season at age 35. Bobby Hull (51) did it during the 1971-72 season at age 33. Phil Esposito (61)  did it during the 1974-75 season at age 32. Jaromir Jagr (54) did it during the 2005-06 season at age 33. That is it. Esposito is the only one to score at least 55.

• Going back to the start of the league (1917-18) the average age of the NHL’s goal-scoring leaders in each season is 26.1. That number lines up with when players typically hit their peak performance as goal scorers (usuallybetween the ages of 22 and 26). Ovechkin is currently on a pace to do it (or at least share it) at age 32.

• If he is able to win the goal-scoring crown this season he would be just the eighth player in league history to lead the league (or share the lead) in goal scoring at age 32 or older. Only one of them has done it in the post-Original Six era. The other six: Cy Denney did it at age 32 during the 1923-24 season. Bill Cook did it at ages 35 and 36 during the 1931-32 and 1932-33 seasons. Maurice Richard did it at ages 32 and 33 during the 1953-54 and 1954-55 seasons. Gordie Howe did it at age 34 during the 1962-63 season. Esposito did it during the 1974-75 season.

• Aside from potentially leading the league at an age when most players do not accomplish that, let’s also not lose sight of the fact he is currently on pace for the third best goal scoring season of his career. Let’s just, for comparisons sake, look at the top-10 goal scorers in league history and how old they were during the top-three goal-scoring seasons in their careers.

Wayne Gretzky: 21, 23, 24
Gordie Howe: 24, 23, 28
Jaromir Jagr: 23, 33, 28
Brett Hull: 26, 25, 27
Marcell Dione: 27, 29, 31
Phil Esposito: 28, 31, 29
Mike Gartner: 25, 31, 21
Mark Messier: 21, 22, 35
Steve Yzerman: 23, 24, 27
Mario Lemieux: 23, 22, 27

There are only five seasons out of that group where one of them was over the age of 30, and only two (Jaromir Jagr at 33 and Mark Messier at 35) where they were over the age of 32.

Obviously a lot of this for this season is based on projections.

He would not only have to remain healthy (something that has not been an issue for him in his career) but also maintain his current pace to make the history he is chasing here. Obviously we can not project injuries, but as long as he stays healthy this season there is no reason to believe that he can not maintain the pace he is currently on. His shots per game numbers have increased by more than a full shot per game versus a year ago. His shooting percentage has rebounded a little. He is scoring more regularly during even-strength play. Put it all together and you have one of the NHL’s all-time greatest goal-scorers putting together one of his most impressive seasons yet.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Szabados backstops Canada’s women to 2-1 OT win vs U.S.

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Goaltender Shannon Szabados says the 2-1 overtime win Sunday against the United States ranks high on her list.

The 31-year-old made 34 saves in her hometown for the national women’s hockey team. Jennifer Wakefield scored the winner on a loose puck in the crease with 27 seconds remaining in overtime.

Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored a power-play goal with 2:45 remaining in the first period. Hilary Knight tied it for the U.S. with 5:58 left in the second on an assist from Kendall Coyne.

Szabados was the goalie for Olympic gold-medal victories against the U.S. in 2010 and 2014. She held Canada in the game on Sunday when her team was outshot 25-10 over the second and third periods.

”This is probably for sure in my top five,” said Szabados, who estimated she had about 300 friends and family in the stands. ”I feel like I’ve played in some pretty big games. This was pretty incredible.”

Maddie Rooney had 24 saves in the loss at the Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, where the announced attendance was just short of a sellout at 17,468. It’s also shy of the record for a women’s hockey game set in Ottawa at 18,023 in 2013.

”We’re a highly skilled team and we need to make sure that we go out and play fast,” said U.S. coach Robb Stauber, whose team was outshot 5-2 in the first period. ”The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February.”

Canada wrapped up their six-game exhibition series with a 5-1 record against the Americans. The rivals won’t meet again until their pool game Feb. 15 at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

”These are great games for us to tune up against each other,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. ”Obviously, it’s the best competition playing against them, we feel.”

How much the results in the pre-Olympic series will matter in February is debatable. Canada lost four in a row to the U.S. in exhibitions before earning gold in overtime at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Canada opens defense of its gold on Feb. 11 against Russia, which recently had six players banned by the International Olympic Committee for doping violations and had its sixth-place result in 2014 stripped.

The Americans won the inaugural women’s hockey event at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The Canadians have won four straight gold medals since then, with the U.S teams finishing with three silver and a bronze.

The 23-player U.S. roster will be announced on Jan. 1.

Fight Video: Austrian League players drop the gloves before intermission interview

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Here’s something you don’t see every day.

A pair of Canadian players playing in the Austrian league dropped the gloves on Sunday. Okay, that’s not the crazy part. The timing of the fight is what makes this moment unique.

Right before the start of an intermission interview with Zagreb Medvescak’s Tom Zanoski, Chris DeSousa of Bolzano HC decided to crash the party.

Both players delivered a few shoves before the situation escalated in the hallway of the rink they were playing in. Eventually, players, staff and security intervened.

Both players received game-misconducts for the incident, while six other players received two-minute roughing penalties.

Stick-tap Aivis Kalnins

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.