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Another labor stoppage looming?

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If another labor war is brewing for the NHL, Jonathan Toews won’t be caught off-guard.

The Chicago Blackhawks captain shrugged when asked this past week about the bad, old days, like the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season and the delayed beginning of the 2012-13 season not all that long ago.

“Wouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “Can’t say anyone should be surprised at this point.”

The NHL announcement Monday that it won’t participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea next February shattered the harmony that appeared to be building after the return of the World Cup last year. To many players, it also seemed like an odd choice with the NHL adding games in Europe and making distinct efforts to gain a foothold in China, site of the next Winter Games in 2022.

While Olympic participation isn’t an issue central enough to all 700-plus players to trigger a work stoppage as early as 2020, frustration over how the situation was handled has led many to wonder if the next collective bargaining negotiations will take an ugly turn.

“There’s the question, of whether this puts a dent or a further dent in the relationship that might cause the players to choose to opt out or might make the negotiations more contentious whenever they occur,” Tulane sports law program director Gabe Feldman said. “It’s a relationship-strain issue, and the possibility that this causes a lack of trust from the players and a feeling that although the owners may have exercised their right here that they went about it in a way that didn’t treat the players as partners and that it may be some negative foreshadowing for the next CBA.”

The season was delayed for three months in 2012 before the two sides hammered out the current collective bargaining agreement. It may feel like hockey just went through this, but owners could opt as soon as Sept. 1, 2019, and the players on Sept. 15, 2019 — either of which would terminate the deal before the 2020 season instead of the scheduled end in 2022.

The league offered an agreement to go to Pyeongchang next year in exchange for extending the CBA until 2025, but players rejected what Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk likened to a “ridiculous” bad trade.

“I’ve never seen that done before, where players have to concede or give up something,” Faulk said. “If we would’ve done that, I’m sure they still would’ve tried to pull another one to get some more out of it.”

The Olympics are far from the only issue that will be on the table for the players and the league. The length of contracts and long-term injured reserve are expected to be discussed, and players also are unhappy that 15.5 percent of their pay is withheld in escrow to ensure a 50/50 split of hockey revenue with owners; some have privately grumbled about not getting paid what their contracts say. Players’ agent Todd Diamond believes the league has a “revenue problem” because NHL business is growing at a slower pace compared with other major sports.

Not wanting to rush into a three-year CBA extension without considering the big picture led the NHL Players’ Association to reject the league’s Olympic offer, though it expected talks to continue. Toews and his counterparts around the league instead were rubbed the wrong way by the implication that owners wanted players to give something up for the first time after participating in the previous five Games .

“Just seems like it comes down to, what can they get out of us when the next CBA negotiation rolls around?” Toews said. “We’re already hitting some road bumps with something like this.”

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said it was too early to comment on whether the Olympic decision might impact labor talks. An NHLPA spokesman declined comment, though executive director Don Fehr said in a Toronto radio appearance, “This is damage which lingers for a long time” because players will remember it.

“If the notion is that everybody will just forget about this, I suspect that’s not going to be the case,” Fehr said on Fan 590.

George Smith, a labor relations professor at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, said there had appeared to be no need for an Olympics guarantee in the 2013 CBA because agreements had been reached in 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2010 and was well on its way in 2014. He thinks it will be discussed next time, even if it is not the central topic.

“Not all of (the players) have a realistic hope of going to the Olympics, so how far do you want to push that in collective bargaining when there’s going to be lots of other issues?” Smith said. “If there are lots of other issues, this will certainly be in the mix and just another reason to say that maybe once again the NHL and the PA are headed for some sort of dispute.”

Feldman said he was concerned that the Olympics issue could “blow up a system that, relatively speaking, it working fairly well for both the players and owners.”

“Could it snowball or could the sides patch things up?” Feldman said. “We’ve seen what can happen in NHL labor wars. Be careful what you wish for when talking about opting out.”

 

Josh Ho-Sang left quite an impression on Islanders coaching staff

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Josh Ho-Sang received his first taste of the NHL this past season, appearing in 21 games for the New York Islanders.

A first-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, Ho-Sang scored four times with 10 points in that span, but at the age of 21 and packed with skill, he was able to leave quite an impression on New York’s coaching staff heading into the summer.

With the Islanders going through mini camp, coach Doug Weight was highly complimentary about the play of Ho-Sang following his recall from the minors and his NHL debut on March 2.

“Josh was great,” Weight told NHL.com. “We were getting feedback from [Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson] about his attitude down there, and he was playing hard, learning the system and played with some passion. I think he showed that when he came up.

“He easily could have had better numbers than he had. He created a lot of opportunities in games that he was snakebit or the puck wasn’t going in. Ten points in 21 games, but he could have done a lot better than that, and I think his game was good. He had some blips, and he responded well, and I think that’s a key for a young guy, and especially Josh.”

Read more: Josh Ho-Sang scores first career NHL goal

Islanders general manager Garth Snow has been busy, last week acquiring scoring right winger Jordan Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers. New York now has 13 forwards under contract for next season, and more than $42 million committed.

The Islanders have done a nice job in the last few years stockpiling skilled young forwards like Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle and Kieffer Bellows in their system. Ho-Sang has one year of professional hockey under his belt, putting up 36 points in 50 games as a rookie with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers this past season.

But after a strong showing late in the NHL season, Ho-Sang has set his sights on cracking the Islanders roster on a full-time basis next season.

“There’s still a lot of moves they can make, and for me, I just want to come in as strong and as fast as possible and kind of not make it a decision for them . . . just ‘Josh is ready,’” he told Newsday.

Methot confident he can compliment Stars’ offensive d-men

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Talk about a hectic few days for Marc Methot.

Methot started last week as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was left unprotected when Dion Phaneuf opted not to waive his no-movement clause. He was plucked during the expansion draft process by Vegas and then dealt to Dallas, as the Golden Knights recouped another draft pick and a prospect goalie.

For the Stars, their offseason plan was simple: Improve their goaltending and improve on defense.

Putting that plan into action is certainly easier said than done, but general manager Jim Nill has made the necessary moves to address those areas, acquiring and then signing Ben Bishop and most recently acquiring Methot. Their new head coach is Ken Hitchcock, who has gained a reputation across the league for defensive structure.

Methot will never be known for his offensive production. He didn’t score a goal in 68 regular season games during the 2016-17 campaign, though he changed that with a pair of goals and four points in the playoffs. What the Stars see in Methot is a “steady defenseman that can play well with an offensive-minded partner,” Nill said two days ago.

It remains to be seen exactly who Methot will be paired with to start next season. Of all the Stars’ defensemen, John Klingberg packs the most offensive punch. In three seasons with Dallas, he’s never gone below the 40-point plateau, hitting 58 points in 2015-16.

“I complement well an offensive-minded player,” Methot told NHL.com. “It allows whoever I’m playing with to roam around a little bit more and take more opportunities offensively. At the same time that doesn’t mean your partner can skate around all over the place at free will. I think you still as a tandem have to be fairly good in your own end.”

The Stars have struggled in that last department. But they’re also in a window to win right now, as their offseason moves have illustrated.

Report: Red Wings re-sign Lashoff to two-year, two-way deal

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The Detroit Red Wings are bringing back defenseman Brian Lashoff.

According to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, the Red Wings have re-signed Lashoff to a two-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 per season. He re-signed with Detroit last year for the same amount of money, only on a one-year contract.

Lashoff has been with the Red Wings organization since 2008, eventually joining its AHL team in Grand Rapids. He has since gone on to play 122 career NHL games, all with the Red Wings, with a total of two goals and 13 points.

This past season, Lashoff played five games in Detroit, while spending the majority of the year with the Griffins, who won the Calder Cup.

Meanwhile, the Red Wings still have interest in defenseman — and former first-round pick — Dylan McIlrath. (CapFriendly reported Wednesday evening that Detroit had re-signed him to a two-year, two-way deal.)

From the Detroit Free Press:

McIlrath towers at 6-foot-5, 236 pounds. He’s not a skill guy, but he’s great at keeping the waters calm for young defense prospects – and this coming season the Griffins’ fold will include Filip Hronek, the 53rd overall pick from 2016 and Vili Saarijarvi, the 73rd overall pick from 2015. McIlrath creates a lot of room because of his size, and that should help young defense partners adjust to pro hockey.

McIlrath was selected 10th overall by the New York Rangers in 2010. He was dealt to Detroit at this year’s trade deadline.

Report: Canucks meet with pending UFAs Gagner, Weal

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The Vancouver Canucks reportedly met with a pair of pending unrestricted free agent centers on Wednesday, as Sam Gagner and Jordan Weal were said to be in town.

That is according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli and Darren Dreger.

Vancouver’s top three centers for the 2017-18 campaign appear to be in place, with Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter. However, center is an area the Canucks especially need to improve going into next season and for the future.

Horvat’s development the past three years has provided hope he can eventually take over as the No. 1 center, and, as a pending restricted free agent, the Canucks need to get him under contract. Meanwhile, Henrik Sedin is 37 in September and in the final year of his contract, along with brother Daniel, following a difficult year for the brothers. Sutter has four more years remaining on his deal, but his time in Vancouver has been disrupted by injury.

Gagner and Weal could provide interesting options for the Canucks.

Playing this season on a one-year contract worth only $650,000, Gagner ended up having his most productive campaign with 18 goals and 50 points, despite the fact he averaged less than 14 minutes of ice time per game, and barely over 11 minutes at even strength under John Tortorella.

Read more: Gagner has been ‘a great story’ for surprising Blue Jackets

Where he made his mark was on the power play, with 18 points. That number would’ve led the Canucks, who were dismal on the power play with a 14.1 per cent efficiency rating, good enough for 29th overall. At 27 years of age, and nearing 700 career games played, almost 30 per cent of Gagner’s career points have come on the power play, so perhaps Canucks’ management may look to him as a possible remedy for that ailment when next season begins.

But after giving big money and term — and a no-movement clause — to Loui Eriksson last summer, it would be wise for the Canucks to be a little more sensible in their spending, especially during a rebuilding phase.

Weal is from the Vancouver area, and is hoping to turn a productive two-month stretch (12 points in 23 games) with the Flyers into a raise from the $650,000 he made at the NHL level last season. At last check, Weal and the Flyers appeared good on term but weren’t on the same page when it came to compensation, leading the 25-year-old forward to check out other possible opportunities across the league.

He’s had no problem putting up big numbers in the AHL, reaching 70 points in 76 games three years ago. And the Canucks could desperately use more offensively gifted players in their lineup, particularly if they have age and time on their side.

When it comes to the Canucks, there is another free agent forward with apparent interest. That would be former No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov.

NHL teams can now talk to pending unrestricted free agents to gauge potential interest, however no contracts can be signed until July 1.