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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.”

 

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.