Donald Fehr: Sidney Crosby

Should the players accept a Fehr-less meeting with the owners?

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Yesterday, after two days of failed mediation, news broke that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had proposed to NHLPA chief Donald Fehr that the players and owners get together without Bettman and Fehr in the room.

The idea was that the removal of the two leaders, each of which has drawn the ire of the other side (and that’s putting it lightly), would reduce the animosity at the bargaining table.

At least, that’s how the league sold it.

“We want to find a way to get to a deal,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “Nothing else has worked. The commissioner felt that we might as well propose something different. We will see how they respond.”

For fans, the proposal was a welcome one. If that’s the way a deal gets done, do it. (And if that doesn’t work, flip a coin or have an arm wrestle. Anything to end this ridiculous lockout.)

But is it the right move for the players? After all, these are not sophisticated deal-makers; they play hockey for a living. Without Fehr, who’s going to look out for them?

Yahoo!’s Nick Cotsonikas thinks it’s a risk the players have to take.

This smells like a trap. After two sessions with U.S. federal mediators went nowhere, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made a suggestion Thursday – a meeting between owners and players only.

It seems like a PR move. It seems like another negotiating tactic designed to go around NHL Players’ Association leadership, like when the league gave executives a secret window to explain a proposal to players. It seems like a mismatch – seasoned businessmen vs. hockey players.

But they’ve got to try, at least under certain conditions. Joining the nobles is the only hope for the season. You know what happens if they don’t take this chance?

Nothing.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News disagrees:

Look for player-friendly owner representatives such as Mario Lemieux and John Davidson to be very prominent in these meetings if they take place. They have an enormous amount of credibility with the players and Lemieux, the NHL likely believes, has an enormous amount of sway over Sidney Crosby. And if a star such as Crosby begins to cave, then perhaps others will follow.

Which is why, from this corner, it makes very little sense for the players to allow this to happen. They hired Fehr precisely to do what he has done so far to the owners and it has been a brilliant tactic. And as far as the players have been concerned, Fehr has been the equivalent of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, constantly being flanked by grim looking superstars at every photo opportunity.

Dealing directly with owners has always represented an enormous disadvantage for the players. That’s why they have agents to negotiate their contracts for them. And that’s why they have Fehr to do their dirty work for them.

The NHLPA has yet to accept or decline the league’s offer.

If it does accept, the next step would be determining the format of the meeting, as well as who’s invited.

“It might be helpful if we can get some other owners in the room,” Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams told the Post-Gazette.

(Translation: Owners besides Jeremy Jacobs, Ted Leonsis, Murray Edwards and Craig Leipold.)

If it declines, the next step may be decertification.

Have the Blackhawks finally found their first-line LW?

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A three-point night for Nick Schmaltz, which included a nifty pass to Jonathan Toews for the game-winner, must have Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wondering how to approach the trade deadline.

The way the 20-year-old rookie has been playing, does Bowman really need to add a first-line left winger before next Wednesday?

It’s a valid question. Only a month ago, Bowman was reportedly sniffing around the likes of Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.

But Schmaltz has since caught fire, with two goals and five assists in his last six games. The rookie from Wisconsin had one goal and two assists in Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over Minnesota.

“He’s been really good,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Tuesday] was the most we’ve ever seen him with the puck. I don’t know how many times he evaded coverage, and all of a sudden he loses the guy on him and a play develops. That play against the grain to [Toews] was spectacular.”

Toews, of course, has been through a whole host of linemates this season, and only in the last month has the captain really started to produce offensively. Richard Panik and Marian Hossa are two veteran options to skate on his right side, but the left side has been a running audition.

Schmaltz, a first-round draft pick in 2014, only got called back up to the NHL in mid-January.

One month later, Toews is liking the chemistry that’s developed between himself, Schmaltz and Panik.

“We’ve been given the chance to spend a few games together, get some consistency, get some feel and some confidence,” said Toews. “The biggest thing for the three of us is if we go through a game without scoring, we’re given a chance to go out in the next game and try and redeem ourselves and contribute offensively.

“It’s a lot of fun, because I think we’re feeling it. [Schmaltz and Panik] are playing so well at both ends of the rink. They’re playing with a ton of confidence with the puck.”

The ‘Hawks have two games left before the March 1 deadline. They host Arizona tomorrow and St. Louis Sunday.

Ducks set to debut Kerdiles, another talented prospect

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 23:  Nicolas Kerdiles, drafted 36th overall by the Anaheim Ducks, poses for a portrait during Day Two of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 23, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Another day, another Anaheim rookie ready to make the leap.

Nic Kerdiles, the 36th overall pick in 2012, looks primed to make his NHL debut tonight when the Ducks host the Bruins. Kerdiles was recalled yesterday and, at this morning’s skate, worked on a line with Corey Perry and leading goalscorer Rickard Rakell, a good indicator he’ll be in the lineup.

Exciting times for both him and the club.

A former University of Wisconsin standout, Kerdiles’ debut was delayed due to a lengthy concussion battle that cost him most of this season. He’s only recently returned to action with AHL San Diego, but didn’t miss a beat — he has four goals and nine points through 10 games, this following a ’15-16 campaign in which he scored 27 points in 45 games (a year also marred by injuries, including broken ribs and a bruised kidney.)

This opportunity comes with Antoine Vermette serving a 10-game suspension for abuse of an official, and veteran journeyman Corey Tropp having been returned to the minors.

At 23, Kerdiles is actually one of the older prospects to join the big club this season:

— Jacob Larsson, the 19-year-old Swedish defender taken 27th overall in ’15, cracked the roster out of camp and played four games before getting returned to Frolunda.

— 21-year-old Ondrej Kase, a seventh-round pick in ’14, has become a lineup fixture, with 12 points in 43 games.

— Nick Sorensen, 22, is a Danish winger taken 45th overall in 13. He made his debut in October and appeared in five games.

— Defenseman Brandon Montour, an AHL All-Star at the center of trade rumors, got called up in January and has 12 contests under his belt.

With all this young talent — especially on defense — it’s not surprising Anaheim’s been in the middle of major trade rumblings leading up to the March 1 deadline. GM Bob Murray’s on record saying he won’t trade blueline prospects for rentals but, with all the talent at his disposal, one wonders if he’ll make a move to avoid losing a prized asset at this June’s expansion draft.

This could be why Anaheim’s debuted all these youngsters. The organization needs to see what they can do at the NHL level, and evaluate who will be in their long-term plans.

Five team stats you may find interesting

Washington Capitals' Matt Niskanen (2) and T.J. Oshie (77) celebrate with Alex Ovechkin (8) after Ovechkin scored against the Dallas Stars during the third period an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Dallas. Stars' Jamie Benn (14) skates back to the bench. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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+50 — That’s the Washington Capitals’ goal differential in 2017. No, not for the entire season. Just for the 23 games they’ve played since Jan. 1. Over that stretch, they’ve scored 98 goals and allowed just 48, for an average score of 4.3 to 2.1. In rather stark contrast, the Colorado Avalanche are minus-30 in 2017, with just 40 goals scored against 70 surrendered.

18 — Regulation wins for the Los Angeles Kings. That’s all they’ve managed in 59 games. Yet the Kings are only two points back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot, with one game in hand. How have they done it? With a league-high 10 overtime victories, against just one OT defeat, that’s how.

53.6 — The faceoff win percentage of the Avalanche, the second-highest percentage in the league. Meanwhile, the three worst faceoff teams are the Penguins (47.8), Rangers (47.6), and Oilers (47.1), all three of which are on pace to make the playoffs. The lesson? Faceoff stats are overrated.

25-0-0 — The Penguins’ record when leading after two periods, making them the only team with a perfect record in that situation. Even more impressive? The Pens finished a perfect 39-0-0 last year, meaning they’ve yet to lose a regular-season game in that situation under head coach Mike Sullivan. (They went 12-2-0 in the playoffs.)

3.47 — Goals per game by the Penguins, putting them on pace to become the highest-scoring team since the 2009-10 Capitals (3.82). That Capitals team, by the way, was the highest-scoring team of the salary-cap era.

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Canucks’ Miller, agent to discuss trade possibilities

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 02:  Ryan Miller #30 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from his crease during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 2, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Vancouver’s in the midst of its bye week, and won’t play again until Saturday, but still figures to be very active next over the few days.

GM Jim Benning said he’d talk with players possessing no-trade clauses during the break, and one of those, veteran netminder Ryan Miller, will have additional discussions as well.

Per News 1130, the pending UFA will talk with agent Mike Liut about trade deadline possibilities. Liut added his client has yet to decide anything regarding his future.

More on this, from Pierre LeBrun on TSN’s Insider Trading:

Ryan Miller has a no-trade with only five teams on it, and of those five teams to go to, three are in the state of California. He spends his offseason, as most people know, in the L.A. area.

The L.A. Kings are, to me, the only real team that potentially makes sense. If they get news on Jonathan Quick in the next week that they’re not sure about him, then perhaps they have to go out and trade for a goalie — and Ryan Miller, that could be of interest.

On the flip side? The Canucks are not against Ryan Miller coming back next year at a lower salary, and being a mentor of sorts.

Miller’s in the last of a three-year, $18 million deal with a $6M cap hit. Pricey, but one that could be mitigated by salary retention.

As for potential suitors?

Today, the Kings waived current backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, a move many have linked to Quick’s pending return. So that would (theoretically) rule out the Miller-to-L.A. idea.

In a recent radio hit, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman floated the idea of Anaheim acquiring Miller. John Gibson has been terrific and is the unquestioned No. 1, but the situation behind him is dicey. Jonathan Bernier, himself a pending UFA, has just a .901 save percentage on the year with a 2.93 GAA, and isn’t playing much. Bernier’s made just two starts this month and in his last one, he was hooked after allowing three goals on just six shots.

Then there’s San Jose.

The club has history of upgrading the backup goalie position at the deadline, most notably last year when James Reimer was acquired to replace the ineffective Alex Stalock. There have been rumblings GM Doug Wilson might try it again this season, but head coach Peter DeBoer recently gave current No. 2 Aaron Dell a vote of confidence.

“There’s probably only one or two teams in the league with the luxury that if their starter goes down they feel very confident,” DeBoer said, per the Mercury News. “At the same time, our group has a real confidence in Deller, I think he’s earned that.”

In the end, an extension in Vancouver might be the most likely outcome. Miller’s been solid, posting a .917 save percentage for a sub-.500 team with one of the league’s worst goal differentials (minus-30). Jacob Markstrom hasn’t proven he’s a legitimate full-time starter, and the goalie market could be flooded this summer with the likes of Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth, Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson all potentially available.

Related: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?