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.

Pending free agents, Radulov and Zaitsev won’t play for Russia at Worlds

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Montreal’s Alexander Radulov and Toronto’s Nikita Zaitsev will not play for Russia at the upcoming World Championship, even though the Canadiens and Maple Leafs have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Both Radulov and Zaitsev are pending free agents, and it would be a risk to play ahead of contract negotiations.

Zaitsev just recovered from an upper-body injury, possibly a concussion. It may, in fact, have been the Leafs who refused to let him go.

Radulov, 30, can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Zaitsev, 25, will be of the restricted variety, assuming he doesn’t sign an extension first. 

Read more: Radulov denies he wants eight-year extension

They aren’t the only players skipping the Worlds due to their contract situations. Chicago’s Richard Panik and Vancouver’s Bo Horvat will not be taking the risk either.

Longtime Berenson assistant Pearson named new Michigan coach

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Michigan went the familiar route in replacing legendary head coach Red Berenson.

Mel Person, who spent 23 years as Berenson’s assistant before taking the head gig at Michigan Tech, has been named the ninth head coach in UM Hockey history, the school announced on Monday.

“I am thrilled to select Mel to lead our hockey program and for him to return home to U-M following tremendous success in leading the Michigan Tech program,” said director of athletics Warde Manuel. “I’ve known Mel for years and experienced his leadership ability when I was the sport administrator for hockey and he was an assistant under Red (Berenson).

“Mel’s qualifications are well known throughout the hockey community and reach far beyond his ability to coach. Simply put, I couldn’t have selected a finer person to lead our ice hockey program into the future.”

Pearson, 58, took Michigan Tech to a pair of NCAA Tournaments during his six years on the job. Several players advanced to the NHL on his watch including Chicago’s Tanner Kero, Edmonton’s Jujhar Khaira and New Jersey’s Blake Pietila.

Two weeks ago, Berenson stepped down from his post at Michigan after 33 years on the job. Together, he and Pearson captured two national championships together.

Backstrom believes Caps are ‘underdogs’ against Pens

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The Washington Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy by seven points over the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, but someone forgot to tell Nicklas Backstrom.

Heading into their second-round matchup against Pittsburgh, Backstrom believes the Capitals are the underdogs in the series, per beat reporter Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Well Nicklas, that’s one way to look at it.

Backstrom is clearly trying to take some of the pressure off of his team’s shoulders, but maybe he’s onto something.

As you may remember, a similar situation arose last year. The Capitals had more points than any other team in 2015-16, but that didn’t stop them from being eliminated by these same Penguins in the second round. Eventually, Pittsburgh went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.

This time, the Capitals won’t have to worry about star defenseman Kris Letang, as he’s out with an upper-body injury. Pittsburgh was able to overcome the Letang injury (Matt Murray too) in round one against Columbus, but Washington is a different animal.

Even without Letang, getting by Pittsburgh won’t be easy, especially when stars like Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby are rolling.

Malkin finished the first round with two goals and an incredible 11 points in five games, while Kessel and Crosby had eight and seven points respectively against Columbus.

Things were a little more difficult offensively for Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, as they posted six, three and three points in six games against the Leafs.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who has the most points and it doesn’t matter who the underdog is in the series either. All that counts is advancing through to the next round.

PHT Morning Skate: Are Thornton and Marleau done in San Jose?

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–After reaching the Stanley Cup Final last year, the San Jose Sharks lasted just one round in 2017. With both Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st, could their time in San Jose be over? We know that Logan Couture wants both players to come back, but would that be the right decision? Allowing them to leave could thrust young players into roles they’re not ready for, but keeping them around and icing a similar team could lead to another first-round exit. (Mercury News)

–The Philadelphia Flyers took a step back this season, as they failed to make the playoffs, but at least the future appears to be bright. They’ve managed to stockpile quality prospects and their farm team finished with the second best record in the AHL. (Philly.com)

–Former NHLer Brandon Prust spent a couple of months hanging around the Leafs earlier this season, but he never ended up getting a contract so he went off to Germany. Prust said the experience was great, but he was a little frustrated that Toronto decided to acquire players like Eric Fehr and Brian Boyle instead of giving him a shot. “I feel I belonged there and I could have helped that team; but what are you going to do? That’s hockey. I felt they really needed a guy like me; and I know I could have helped them. Then they go and make trades for players similar to me. It’s tough.” (Yahoo)

–Justin Bieber made an appearance at the ACC last night. He was wearing a custom Leafs jersey, and he seemed to be pretty into it. Unfortunately for Biebs, his team couldn’t extend the series to seven games. (BarDown)

–The Toronto Maple Leafs pushed the Washington Capitals as much as they could, but they just ran out of steam in Game 6. Check out the highlights from the Caps’ 2-1 OT win by clicking the video at the top of the page.

Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price were named finalists for the Vezina Trophy. The Hockey News makes a case for each of the three goaltenders, but Bobrovsky’s gotta be considered the favorite.  Jared Clinton writes: “It’s not just Bobrovsky’s base numbers that are impressive, either. His underlying numbers makes his case further. The only goaltending with 1,000-plus minutes at 5-on-5 to post a better SP than Bobrovsky’s .939 mark was Craig Anderson.” (The Hockey News)

–It sounds like Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski is pretty confident that Auston Matthews is going to walk away with the Calder Trophy this year: