Donald Fehr

NHLPA wanted more answers before approving realignment

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When news broke that the NHLPA withheld its consent of the NHL’s radical realignment plan, it seemed stunning and many went into Chicken Little lockout mode. The more you think about, the more it seemed a little brazen that the league expected the players to almost blindly approve such a big change, though.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr told Sportsnet.ca that the players association wanted more answers than the league seemed willing to give.

For one thing, they wanted more information about travel, but it seemed that the NHL didn’t go beyond vagaries.

“After some initial information transfers,” said Fehr, “it became clear that there would be increased travel but it was unclear as to how much and which clubs and we asked for some sample schedules and (the NHL) said those could not be provided.”

Taking that comment at face value, it’s surprising that the NHL wouldn’t give players a better idea about what new schedules would look like. Then again, maybe there was a concern that they would be held to such hypothetical examples once negotiation time came.

As you may have heard, the playoff setup (which involved four teams coming from each conference even though two conferences would include seven teams while two others would include eight) was a big sticking point. Players wanted to discuss that issue, but that door was closed as well, according to Fehr.

“The players wanted to talk to (the NHL) about the playoff issue,” Fehr said. “We didn’t intend to pre-judge what the results of those conversations would be. The commissioner’s office said they were not in the position to have those discussions and I fully respect that, they’re certainly entitled to take that view.”

It’s often tough to determine what’s truthful and what is just P.R. speak, but if Fehr’s telling the truth, then perhaps the NHL could have done more to inform everyone involved about what is honestly a dramatic change. Personally, I cannot totally blame the teams in the eight-team conferences from feeling slighted. In an age of the salary cap and the significant parity that comes with it, having to beat out three teams instead of four can be a big advantage.

Let’s face it, though; most of us are just taking the “Do what you have to do, but for the love of all that is sacred just don’t have another lockout!” stance. Still, if you’re the type to take sides, the mood might be shifting ever so slightly toward the players’ side.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Capitals – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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Even with two games in hand, some might be surprised to see the Washington Capitals tied with the Boston Bruins in standings points in early December.

That’s the case on Wednesday Night Rivalry, as a somewhat up-and-down Capitals team (which is glad to welcome T.J. Oshie back) hosts a Bruins squad that’s riding a three-game winning streak.

It should be an interesting matchup on NBCSN, which you can also watch online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Rangers mostly dodge a bullet: Nash only expected to miss a week

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers moves the puck along the boards during the second period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 6, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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No one wants to hear “It could be worse” when injuries are really piling up, but … uh, it could be worse for the New York Rangers.

At least, it could have been worse for Rick Nash. The team announced that he’s only expected to miss about a week after undergoing an MRI related to a groin injury.

It’s been a redemptive season for Nash, so it’s nice to see that it isn’t getting totally derailed. Granted, injuries like these can linger even if a guy returns to the lineup, so we’ll need to see if he gets back to 100 percent.

The Rangers certainly aren’t at full-strength right now. Their laundry list of injured forwards is quite daunting, even for a team with vaunted depth at that position:

(It sounds like Pavel Buchnevich is still quite a ways from returning, sadly.)

Alain Vigneault sells the biggest benefit of these issues: opportunities for other players – including Oscar Lindberg – to step up.

“I just think this is part of the NHL and it is what it is. It’s there and you deal with it,” Vigneault said . “You get a lot of players at different times that wish that they can get more ice time to prove that they can have a bigger role and that they can do more. Well, no better time than the present for us right now.”

Double whammy to Habs centers: Galchenyuk, Desharnais out 6-8 weeks

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Thanks to two knee injuries, the Montreal Canadiens suddenly seem pretty slim at center.

The team announced two unfortunate and strangely similar timelines for important centers: both Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais are expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with their knee issues.

It will be a challenge for Michel Therrien to make everything work, to the point where you wonder if maybe he’ll move a player from the wing to center (hey, Max Pacioretty DOES want an elevated role, if you believe the rumors about discontent).

Tomas Plekanec becomes that much more important to the Canadiens, and one might assume that Andrew Shaw may go back to the middle. LNH.com’s Arpon Basu listed some options, in case you’re more of a visual learner:

Yeah, not ideal.

The road ahead

It isn’t all bad news when you look at Montreal’s overall situation.

For one thing, they gave themselves a nice cushion, as they currently lead the Atlantic Division by five points. With four games in a row and six of seven at home, they may be able to manage these tough losses pretty well in the short-term.

The real challenges might come late in December and early in January. They play seven road games in a row – though with a break around New Year’s – and nine of 10 away from Montreal from Dec. 23 – Jan. 12.

While they’ve suffered some minor bumps in the road so far, this is their truest test of 2016-17. It should be interesting to see how they handle this.

Pre-game reading: On the Isles and John Tavares

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— Up top, that time John Scott was named MVP of the All-Star Game. The big man announced his retirement today.

— New York Post writer Brett Cyrgalis believes the Islanders must do a better job of surrounding John Tavares with talent. Otherwise, Tavares might decide to leave. The Isles are certainly going to be an interesting team to watch. There’s all sorts of speculation that the new ownership group wants to bolster the front office, with former Canucks executives Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman hearing their names floated as potential hires. Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, and just like Steven Stamkos not too long ago, other markets already have their eyes on him. (New York Post)

— Speaking of the Canucks, GM Jim Benning will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, and Alex Edler, three veterans who could theoretically be dealt to help a rebuild. “These are the guys we want to keep and build our young players around,” said Benning, who’s said similar things in the past. (The Province)

— Elliotte Friedman’s latest “30 Thoughts” includes a prediction that the NHL will be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but it remains to be seen about the 2018 Games in South Korea. “For the first time, I’m not so sure. The NHL does not like the IOC and the owners don’t like the toll this season’s compressed schedule is taking on the players.” Which begs a pretty good question — If the NHL skips out in 2018, will the IOC even allow NHLers back in 2022? (Sportsnet)

— ESPN columnist Scott Burnside thinks the NHL should take a pass on the 2018 Games. “When we talk about the Olympics in terms of growing the game, what game are we talking about growing? The NHL game and the Olympic one are sometimes mutually exclusive. Forget the time difference and the difficulties of scheduling Olympic games during North American prime time. The more important question — and ultimate incentive for owners — is: Did the Olympic games in Japan, Italy and Russia do anything to promote the NHL game globally? The answer is pretty simple: No.” (ESPN)

— Good news about Craig Cunningham, who’s been speaking with his Tucson Roadrunners teammates via FaceTime. “It was nice to see him smile. He was cracking jokes just as if he were here the next day. It was pretty funny. He said he wanted us to come pick him up and take him to the rink. He was joking around. Stuff like that.” (KVOA)

Enjoy the games!