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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.”

 

DeBoer praises ‘courageous’ Thornton for playing with torn ACL, MCL (Updated)

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In a fairly stunning admission on Monday, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that Joe Thornton played in four of San Jose’s six playoff games versus Edmonton with a significant knee injury.

Thornton, who was hurt against Vancouver late in the regular season, suffered tears to both his left MCL and ACL.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” DeBoer said, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

Thornton, 37, missed the first two games of the series to rest his knee, before suiting up for the final four. He averaged 18:50 TOI per night and finished with a pair of assists, numbers that are pretty remarkable given the severity of his ailment.

Jumbo wasn’t the only unhealthy Shark during the first-round playoff ouster. Logan Couture‘s face/mouth injury was well-documented and, today, DeBoer also revealed that Tomas Hertl was playing with a broken foot, and Patrick Marleau with a broken thumb.

Looking ahead, Thornton’s knee injury might cloud what’s an already murky future. He’s a pending UFA, and there have been no clear signals from the organization on how they’ll address his potential return. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp was looking for a three-year deal.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Sharks GM Doug Wilson has time on his side. It’s understood the club probably wouldn’t act on an extension for Thornton until after the June expansion draft, which could give the Sharks enough time to better gauge his health.

Update:

Per NBC Sports California, Wilson confirmed Thornton is undergoing surgery today to repair the ligaments.

 

 

Online bookmaker: Caps are Stanley Cup favorites

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The Washington Capitals got a bit of a scare in the first round, but they’ll go into the second round as the Stanley Cup favorites.

Per online bookmaker Bovada, here is the full list of Stanley Cup odds for the eight remaining teams:

Washington Capitals   7/2
Pittsburgh Penguins    17/4
Anaheim Ducks             11/2
Edmonton Oilers          11/2
St. Louis Blues              13/2
Nashville Predators     7/1
New York Rangers       8/1
Ottawa Senators           10/1

The Chicago Blackhawks entered the postseason as 4/1 Cup favorites at Bovada. Of course, the ‘Hawks were then swept by the Preds, who’ve gone from 25/1 long shots to 7/1 heading into their series with the Blues.

The Caps’ odds actually dropped to 13/2 after they fell behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1. But three straight wins, two in overtime, clinched them a spot against the Penguins in the second round.

The Ottawa Senators are the long shots of the bunch now, despite having home-ice advantage over the Rangers in the second round.

Isles bring back Seidenberg — one year, $1.25 million

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The Islanders saw enough from Dennis Seidenberg this season to bring him back for another.

On Monday, the club announced it had signed the veteran defenseman to a one-year deal. Per Newsday, it’s for $1.25 million — a slight raise from the $1M he earned this season.

Seidenberg, 35, caught on with the Isles in late September, parlaying a good showing with Team Europe at the World Cup into a contract after going the entire summer unsigned.

For New York, it worked out very well.

Seidenberg was a regular lineup fixture, averaging 19:26 TOI over 73 games. He also provided some good production from the back end, scoring five goals and 22 points — his highest offensive output in five years.

Today’s deal also gives the Isles some flexibility when it comes to the upcoming expansion draft. The club now has six blueliners under contract for next season — Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Thomas Hickey and Scott Mayfield — and a seventh, pending RFA Calvin de Haan, will (presumably) be locked in as well. The same might be said of fellow RFA Adam Pelech.

Young d-man Ryan Pulock, who only appeared in one game this year, locked in through 2018.

Cassidy ‘absolutely’ wants to return as Bruins’ head coach

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To nobody’s surprise, Bruce Cassidy is on board with shedding his interim tag and becoming Boston’s full-time bench boss.

“Absolutely,” Cassidy said of coming back, following the Bruins’ opening-round playoff loss to Ottawa (per CBS Boston). “One hundred percent.”

One would think the 51-year-old did enough to warrant a longer look. After replacing Claude Julien in early February, Cassidy led a team on the fringes of the playoff picture to an 18-8-1 record down the stretch, and a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division.

Yes, the B’s fell short against the Sens, but were hamstrung by a depleted lineup missing the likes of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo. Top center David Krejci was also extremely limited, missing three of six games to injury.

When further asked about his future, Cassidy tapped the brakes on predicting what will happen, or what changes the team needed for next season.

“Well, now we’re making a lot of assumptions,” he said. “That will be determined going forward by management. It’s a tough question to answer.”

Cassidy’s time with Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence, and his history working with young players, may certainly help his cause. A few of his guys — Austin Czarnik, Frank Vatrano, Tommy Cross, Noel Acciari — forged out roles with the big club this season, while other youngsters certainly made an impact in the playoffs.

Prized d-man prospect Charlie McAvoy was a central figure on defense, and one of Cassidy’s more notable lineup moves — putting Sean Kuraly in for Games 5 and 6 — gave the club a boost of energy.

That said, the B’s do have options on the coaching front.

There are a number of experienced bench bosses available. Lindy Ruff, Darryl Sutter and Jack Capuano — a former teammate of Sweeney’s, it should be mentioned — are just a few of the higher profile free agents out there. It’s unclear if Boston is interested in going this route, however. Cassidy has been with the organization a long time, going on eight seasons, and has certainly paid his dues.