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Olympics could be hot topic in next round of NHL CBA talks

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Going to the Olympics was a life-changing experience for T.J. Oshie, a shootout star for the United States against Russia in Sochi.

Oshie and dozens, if not hundreds, of NHL stars are disappointed they won’t get a chance to do it again at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. He would like to ensure Olympic participation in the future – but not at any cost.

“To what end, like what we would have to give up?” Oshie said. “Now you’re taking about an entire league of players and families potentially losing out on whatever it would be. … What we’d be giving up would affect everybody. It’s a tough talk.”

Because Olympic participation wasn’t written into the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2013, the decision rested with NHL owners, who decided against going to Pyeongchang after the league participated in the previous five Games. With the first chance for players or owners to opt out of the CBA now two years away, the Olympics, escrow payments and the draft age look like they are bound to be among the hot topics.

Read more:

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McDavid disappointed at NHL decision to skip Olympics

NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr said owners choosing to skip the 2018 Olympics “is a thorn, is a sore” for players and is “not going to be forgotten.”

“I think it is clearly something the players are going to want to think long and hard about when they get to the point of formulating their positions,” Fehr said. “I would not be at all surprised if they wanted to make this an issue around which they felt very strongly in terms of the overall agreement because you have to remember that while it’s true that roughly a fifth of the players play in any particular set of Games, everyone would like the opportunity to go.”

Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin said not going to the Olympics “kind of makes you angry.” Seguin added: “We’re going to have to figure something out for future players and for our future in general as a game.”

The future of the game likely will involve increased international events that help grow revenue and spread hockey’s influence around the world. The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks recently played in Shanghai and Beijing , site of the 2022 Olympics, with the NHL attempting to make inroads in China.

The NHL and NHLPA staged the return of the World Cup of Hockey last year in Toronto, and the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators will play two games in Sweden in November.

Fehr said the NHL has “for some time now indicated a lot more interest in China” than in Korea. But Commissioner Gary Bettman said in several meetings with Chinese businesses and government entities “not one of them asked about the Olympics because what we’re doing isn’t about two weeks.”

The NHL is interested in China, and it wouldn’t hurt the players’ Olympic chances if Salt Lake City or Calgary lands the 2026 Winter Games, but the topic of ensuring participation is not an easy one for upcoming negotiations.

“For us to say that there’s a change of heart, there’s obviously going to have to be a change in circumstance, including how the (International Olympic Committee) and the (International Ice Hockey Federation) view our participation,” said Bettman, who noted that neither side is currently focused on reopening CBA talks.

“I have no idea what the Players’ Association will raise in that regard. But we were clear in the last round of bargaining that we needed the ability not to go to the Olympics because we understood how disruptive they are to the season.”

After 147 NHL players participated in Sochi, much of the reaction inside locker rooms to the NHL’s decision on Korea wasn’t positive. At the very least, a handful of players said they’d like to know in advance about the Olympics so it doesn’t come down to the wire like it did last time.

“I think it’s important that we address it so that it’s a done issue, whether it be that we’re not going or we’re going,” Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said. “I don’t think we want to leave it open to interpretation every year that it goes on.”

One thing that hasn’t been open to interpretation since 2013 is players having some of their pay held in escrow to compensate for the 50/50 split of revenue with owners. Last season, players had 15.5 percent of their pay withheld and many have expressed displeasure with the system.

Fehr said changes could be made to the escrow system, but added that it has always been his view that salary caps “cause all kinds of problems.” The NHL and NHLPA instituted the salary cap coming out of the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out a season, and Bettman is proud of the competitive balance it has created.

“That’s why we fought so hard and we were committed to getting a system that would enable all of our teams to be competitive,” Bettman said.

Another topic that is likely to spark conversation is raising the draft age from 18 to 19. Former player and current NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider said it can be a positive but knows there are challenges to changing it like the NBA did several years ago.

Fehr, who was executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1985-2009 and has headed the NHLPA for the past seven years, said preparations for the next round of bargaining will ramp up after the executive board meeting next summer. With plenty of conversations left to have, he thinks it’s too early to tell what will be the central issues when push comes to shove.

“You can make guesses, you can sometimes make educated guesses and every so often you’re going to be right,” Fehr said. “But it’s a chancy prospect.”

 

Connor McDavid’s deal ushers in age of NHL’s millennial millionaires

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Connor McDavid is doing his best to not make a big deal out of his big deal.

Edmonton’s 20-year-old captain and reigning NHL MVP insists nothing about him has changed in the months since signing an eight-year, $100 million contract.

“My buddies are all the same,” McDavid told The Associated Press. “Nothing’s all that different, to be honest.”

Individually, maybe not, for someone who will become the league’s top-paid player on a per-year basis once the contract kicks in next season.

From a league-wide standpoint, McDavid’s mega-deal is the latest and most eye-popping example of what’s becoming a sea change in how teams are prioritizing their payroll structure at a time the NHL’s salary cap has barely budged. The cap has gone from $69 million in 2014-15 to $75 million this season.

Hockey is becoming a young man’s game: Teams are now spending more on retaining their younger stars with an eye on the long-term future, rather than on adding older players in free agency.

“I would think this is going to be a trend,” Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford told The AP. “There’s 31 teams and it’s hard to find premier players, so when teams get them, they’re going to lock them up.”

As for whether the trend’s favorable, Rutherford chuckled and said: “It depends on how you look at it. If you’re the team that’s got the good players, you’re going to keep them.”

The Oilers did so this summer by also signing 21-year-old forward Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million deal. Next up is Buffalo’s Jack Eichel , selected second in the 2015 draft, one spot behind McDavid. An NHL-maximum eight-year contract is on the table for Eichel, though the two sides have yet to agree on price.

And the focus will eventually shift to members of the 2016 draft class such as Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine. By comparison, the Florida Panthers might have gotten a break in signing 2014 No. 1 pick, defenseman Aaron Ekblad, to an eight-year, $60 million contract a year ago.

“There’s obviously a new market out there in terms of money for young kids,” Eichel said. “I don’t think age should be too much of a reason for somebody not to get a good deal. If they earned it, they earned it.”

What’s different is it’s happening to the under-23 crowd.

Previously, players coming out of their three-year rookie contracts would be signed to what were called “bridge deals” ranging from four to five years. That was the case with Sidney Crosby who, at 21, signed a five-year $43.5 million deal before cashing in once again at 26, when he signed his current 12-year, $104 million contract.

Now teams are blowing past age barriers by offering long-term security beyond when players are eligible to become free agents in exchange for cost certainty.

“A lot has changed since 2005,” Devils GM Ray Shero said, referring to the age of free agents dropping from 31 to between 25 and 27, depending on the situation. “The game right now is, pay the star player and retain them if possible. Those are the guys getting the eight-year deals.”

There have been exceptions, most notably the Montreal Canadiens signing 31-year-old goalie Carey Price to an eight-year, $84 million contract this summer. Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning avoided losing captain Steven Stamkos to free agency by locking him up with an eight-year $68 million contract.

Fewer notable players, however, are making it to their first year of free-agent eligibility. And those who do aren’t landing the lucrative, long-term deals as before.

This summer, 31-year-old Alexander Radulov signed the most expensive contract, a five-year, $31.25 million deal with Dallas, followed by 28-year-old defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk‘s four-year, $26.6 million contract with the New York Rangers.

Those are modest deals in comparison to 2012, when the Minnesota Wild signed both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year, $98 million contracts, before the NHL restricted contracts to a maximum eight-year term.

“Every time you set a new bar, as revenues rise, as players move up, it creates additional opportunities for other players,” NHL Players’ Association chief Donald Fehr said, referring to McDavid. “The more you pay an individual player in a cap system, however, it does have repercussions on it.”

The commitment to youth is evident in how NHL teams have re-arranged their scouting staffs and dedicating more resources into establishing player development positions. That’s a considerable switch from the past, when most teams relied on small staff of scouts, and spent little on their minor-league affiliates, Sabres GM Jason Botterill said.

Ten years ago, the Sabres employed one pro scout, seven amateur scouts and a staff of five scouting assistants. This season, Botterill’s first in Buffalo, the Sabres have two assistant GMs, 13 amateur scouts, three pro scouts and even a college scout. And that doesn’t include Buffalo’s four player-development coaches.

“Teams realize the importance of what the development of these young players in your system can lead to for your organization,” Botterill said. “And it’s important to put resources toward that.”

 

Report: Kings release journeyman Chris Lee from PTO

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It would’ve made for an amazing story — Chris Lee, playing his first NHL game, at the age of 37 after successfully making the L.A. Kings on a professional tryout.

However, according to John Hoven of MayorsManor.com, the Kings have released Lee from his PTO. The news comes just days before his 37th birthday next week.

Lee has built up quite a career as a journeyman blue liner, with stops in the AHL, ECHL and KHL.

He spent the last four seasons with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, racking up 65 points in 60 games last season. He was also named to Canada’s squad at the 2017 World Championships.

In May, news broke that Lee was leaving the KHL for a shot at playing in the NHL.

Virtanen proving he’s up to the challenge of cracking Canucks roster

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Will Jake Virtanen begin the year in the American Hockey League? Or has the 2014 sixth-overall pick done enough this preseason to crack the Canucks’ opening night roster?

The 21-year-old forward has 65 games worth of NHL experience since he was selected, but with the number of forwards in camp this month, making the team promised to be a battle for Virtanen, who didn’t necessarily post overwhelming numbers down in Utica last season when he was sent down.

With one preseason game remaining on the Canucks’ schedule, Virtanen has so far been up to the challenge. On Thursday, he notched his third goal in exhibition play. The sequence started with Virtanen picking off a Flames pass inside the Vancouver blue line and leading the transition to the attack.

“I’m not going to worry about that,” Virtanen said of the team’s upcoming roster decisions, following Thursday’s game versus the Flames. “I love when I can get in games. Whatever opportunity you can get, you want to make the most of it.”

Canucks general manager Jim Benning has preached patience with Virtanen’s development. He possesses tantalizing qualities like size on the wing, speed for a bigger player, and a good shot.

The key for Vancouver is getting the most out of him as consistently as possible, and Benning believed that his prospect forward took positive steps forward last year under the watchful eye of Travis Green, now the head coach in Vancouver.

The argument for sending Virtanen back to Utica would be to get him plenty of ice time, play him big minutes and in all situations, which would help his development. He wouldn’t see the same role in Vancouver.

But after enduring some difficulties through two seasons in Vancouver and Utica, his play these past few weeks has kickstarted a conversation that he should start the season in the NHL with the Canucks.

Oilers’ 2017 first-round pick Yamamoto making a push to begin season in Edmonton

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Kailer Yamamoto didn’t get selected until the 22nd overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. A few months later and, according to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, he could make the Edmonton Oilers out of training camp at the age of 19.

The Oilers would still have the option to send Yamamoto back to junior after nine games and avoid burning a year of his entry-level contract. Last season, the 5-foot-8 forward lit up the Western Hockey League, with 99 points in 65 games as a member of the Spokane Chiefs.

Judging by the story of his answer to a question during a pre-draft interview, Yamamoto is certainly confident in his abilities. He was able to back it up in junior with another massive year, and now he’s making an impact on the Oilers through training camp.

From Sportsnet:

Yamamoto will open the regular season with the Oilers against the Calgary Flames here on Wednesday. It’s just that no one wants to say it out loud quite yet.

“If we had to make a decision right now, he would start the season (in the NHL),” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli told Sportsnet on Friday, while taping an interview to run closer to Opening Night. “We’ve still got some time left, but he’s certainly earned the spot he is in right now.”

The Oilers have one more preseason game remaining on their schedule. That goes Saturday against the Canucks. They will then host the rival Calgary Flames on Oct. 4 to open the regular season.

A number of players that are smaller in stature have been able to make an impact in the NHL, causing problems for opponents with their speed or their deft skill. Look no further than Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary. Or Viktor Arvidsson in Nashville. Or Tyler Johnson in Tampa Bay.

“He’s gotten better with better players. He’s gotten better, progressively, against better players,” said Chiarelli, per the Edmonton Journal. “You have to be careful with players of that size and stature at that age, but he’s very durable. He doesn’t get hit. He rolls off of checks. He’s one of those guys, he’s just very elusive.”