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NHL one year away from key labor deadline

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Connor McDavid heard teammates talking about another potential lockout when he entered the NHL – in 2015.

As he became one of hockey’s best players and signed the richest annual contract in the league, McDavid says he remains optimistic there will not be another work stoppages like those in 2004-05 and 2012-13 – but he protected himself anyway with contract language guaranteeing some early payment, just in case.

”Both parties have kind of prepared so long for it,” McDavid said. ”I genuinely believe that both sides want to keep playing. We want to play and the owners want to keep making money.”

The NHL has reached almost $5 billion in revenue, up from just $437 million in 1993, and is in the midst of a U.S. TV deal with NBC that pays $2 billion and a Canadian TV deal with Sportsnet that pays almost $5 billion. The growth and popularity of NHL hockey is undeniable, yet labor issues are bubbling beneath the veneer – again.

The current collective bargaining agreement cannot be terminated until September 2020, but there is a key date looming 12 months from now: On Sept. 1, 2019, the league has the option and then, on Sept. 15, the Players’ Association has the option to terminate the labor pact.

Another battle is brewing, with revenue, escrow payments and the Olympics among the top issues expected to be on the table.

”Everyone has a pretty good understanding of what the PA’s trying to get done and what the NHL’s trying to get done,” New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider said. ”I don’t think the conversation about (hockey-related revenue) is going away any time soon. It’s such a kind of ambiguous and often argued-about point. I know guys want to go to the Olympics, and I know guys don’t like escrow.”

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr told The Associated Press he didn’t necessarily expect one side or the other to reopen labor talks but ”that’s what you plan for, and you sort of assume it’s going to happen because otherwise you’re not ready.” Commissioner Gary Bettman told The AP he’s ”a fan of stability and labor peace. We’re not looking for a dispute.”

Bettman proposed a three-year extension of the current CBA through 2025 in exchange for the league agreeing to participate in the 2018 Olympics. As much as players wanted to go, they rejected that deal – a signal they have concerns with the deal signed in 2013.

One of the prevailing player complaints is having upward of 10 percent of their paychecks held in escrow to conform to the 50/50 split of revenue with owners. The salary cap goes up, but if revenue doesn’t grow in proportion, players forfeit a percentage of their pay.

”I don’t care how much money you make or what you do, you sign a contract, you feel like you’ve earned that and you expect that your employer is going to hold up his end of the deal,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. ”At the end of each season to be told that they’re going to take back 10 or 12 or 15 or sometimes 20 percent of your contract? I think that’s a kick you-know-where. I don’t agree with that, and I think there’s a lot of things the NHL can do to promote the game and enhance the business side of the game. Their mistakes shouldn’t be coming out of the players’ pockets.”

The ultimate goal is to grow business big enough that escrow is reduced to zero and contracts are worth exactly as they’re written. Players consider the Olympics one opportunity to grow the game. Bettman and the owners say stopping the season for two weeks is a significant disruption, but the Olympics will be a point of internal discussion and could extend to bargaining talks.

”We need a long-term international calendar agreement with the owners,” Fehr said. ”And I think they share that view even if we have significantly different views as to what that calendar should be. But I would like to believe that we could figure out a way to do that. So is (going to the Olympics) definitely going to be a subject of collective bargaining? I can’t say that yet. Is it possible? Of course.”

Given that lockouts wiped out the 2004-05 season and reduced it to 48 games in 2013, some star players and their agents looked ahead to a potential work stoppage in 2020 or 2022. According to PuckPedia , 77 players have signing bonuses in their contracts for the 2020-21 season totaling over $252 million – an increase of more than 10 percent from the amount of players who have bonuses in 2019-20.

McDavid has $12 million of his $13 million salary that season in a signing bonus paid in July, Toronto’s John Tavares will make $11.09 million of his $12 million with the lump sum and many other top players have the so-called lockout protections in their contracts – just in case.

”I just hope as a player that I don’t try to be looking at things differently or selfishly because I’ve earned that money ahead of time where obviously maybe other players haven’t,” Tavares said. ”I think you try to put yourself in the middle and try to look at things objectively.

”I think obviously, unfortunately, the last few times there’s been opportunities for the CBA to be negotiated, there’s been lengthy labor stoppages and something that obviously I had to consider. When you see that as part of history, you worry that that trend is going to continue.”

AP Hockey Writers John Wawrow and Larry Lage contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Wednesday Night Hockey: Jonathan Toews is back

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After seeing his production dip in under 60 points in each of the last three seasons, many believed that we’d already seen Jonathan Toews‘ best days. Last season, Toews posted 0.70 points-per-game which was a career-low for him in his NHL career.

Picking up 20 goals and 52 points in 74 games is far from a terrible year for most players, but Toews isn’t most players. He’s the captain of the Blackhawks and his contract comes with a cap hit of $10.5 million dollars. To make matters even worse, Chicago ended up missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2017-18.

It’s no secret that Patrick Kane has been the team’s MVP this season, but Toews hasn’t been too far behind.

The 30-year-old has picked up 28 goals and 60 points through 60 games and he’s picked up at least one point in 19 of his last 22 contests. He’s also scored in three straight games and he’s amassed 18 points in his last 11 contests. He hasn’t been a point-per-game player since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when he had 48 points in 47 games.

“I guess you’re always looking to be better, no matter what,” Toews said, per the Chicago Tribune. “So if I’m comparing this season to my previous two years, yeah, things are better. But I still have a higher expectation for myself. Things are falling into place for our team and the power play’s looking better, so I feel I can relax and focus on my game and not worry about doing every single little thing right and maybe take some offensive risks and try to create some offense when our team game’s pretty solid.

“I always want to create more offense, and even though I’m on the board here and there, I can do a better job of just being more dynamic and offensive every time I get on the ice.”

When taking a deeper look at the numbers, it’s easy to see why Toews has been more successful, especially in the goal department. In the previous two seasons, he had shooting percentages of 10.6 and 9.5 percent. This year, he’s up to 17.2 percent, which is his highest percentage since 2007-08 (17.4 percent).

Interestingly enough, a lot of his advanced numbers have taken a dip this season. Here’s what his advanced metrics look like from last year to this year:

CF%: 56.07 to 48.73
FF%: 53.16 to 47.06
HDCF%: 52.05 to 41.75

(All stats via Natural Stat Trick)

With Toews and Kane leading the way, the Blackhawks have found a way to get themselves back in the playoff hunt. Heading into tonight’s game, the ‘Hawks are just one point behind the Minnesota Wild for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The only problem, is that three other teams also have 59 points.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Worst deadline trades; How Blues almost got Kessel

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• NHL.com takes a look at who will be buyers and who will be sellers at the upcoming trade deadline. (NHL.com)

• ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski breaks down the 20 worst deadline trades in NHL history. (ESPN)

• The Vegas Golden Knights and Vienna Capitals have entered into a collaborative partnership. “Our ambition is always to learn from the best. The Vegas Golden Knights are an outstanding benchmark in the hockey world and this partnership enables us a tremendous amount of opportunities to learn from this club. We are very proud to get the chance for this collaboration,” said Vienna Capitals General Manager Franz Kalla. (NHL.com/GoldenKnights)

• As part of Black History Month, P.K. Subban explains what it’s like to be a role model. (Sportsnet)

• A group of priests are trying to bring back the Flying Fathers, who are the hockey equivalent to the Harlem Globetrotters. (New York Times)

T.J. Oshie plays an energetic brand of hockey and he’ll probably never change. (Washington Post)

• Jaromir Jagr is back after a long absence. (CBC.ca)

• Robert Tychkowski can’t believe the Oilers are in the mess than they’re in. (Edmonton Journal)

• Dave Eastham is the trainer that helped Kevan Miller become a regular on the Bruins blue line. (WEEI)

• Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist isn’t letting the trade chatter bother him. (MLive.com)

• Remember that time the St. Louis Blues almost traded Keith Tkachuk and David Perron for Phil Kessel? (St. Louis Game-Time)

• NBC’s Pierre McGuire could learn a thing or two from John Tavares:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Miller, Ducks win again; Josi on a tear

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Three stars

1. Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks

A night after becoming the winningest American-born goaltender in NHL history, Miller produced a fantastic performance in a 31-save shutout against the Minnesota Wild.

The shutout was Miller’s first of the season and 44th of his career. The Ducks have now won two straight and are three points back of the Wild for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

The Wild, meanwhile, lost their fifth straight, including their second straight game being banished from the scoresheet. The Ducks are faring well without John Gibson.

2. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators 

Josi scored twice in the third period, including the game-winner, and added an assist in the game for a three-point night

The elite defenseman now has four goals and 11 points in his past eight games for the Predators, who needed a win after going 1-3-1 over their past five games.

The Preds are now just a point back of the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Central Division although Winnipeg has three games in hand.

3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

Huberdeau scored twice and added an assist in a 4-2 win for the Panthers against the struggling Buffalo Sabres.

Huberdeau hadn’t scored in eight games prior to Tuesday’s contest and had just one goal in his previous 14.

Florida is nine points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Highlights of the night

Barkov with another dirty move:

Windmill:

Broke all the ankles:

Factoids

https://twitter.com/PR_NHL/status/1098065651539865601

Scores

Panthers 4, Sabres 2
Penguins 4, Devils 3
Lightning 5, Flyers 2
Rangers 2, Hurricanes 1
Canadiens 3, Blue Jackets 2
Blues 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)
Ducks 4, Wild 0
Predators 5, Stars 3
Coyotes 3, Oilers 2 (SO)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck=

O’Reilly scores historic overtime winner as Blues win 11th straight

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And then it was 11.

The St. Louis Blues set a new team record for consecutive wins in emphatic fashion when Ryan O'Reilly went bar down on Frederik Anderson 34 seconds into overtime to down the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on NBCSN on Tuesday.

Mitch Marner came rushing in just before O’Reilly’s winner, but Colton Parayko was able to fend him off. O’Reilly was there to intercept Marner’s attempt at a centering pass and it was off to the races for No. 90, who scored his 26th of the season to extend St. Louis’ remarkable streak.

The Blues came into the game riding a three-game shutout streak — because beating teams simply wasn’t enough anymore. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to first-period goals from Jaden Schwartz and Parayko.

The game appeared to be heading toward another blank sheet after two periods, but a bad giveaway by Alex Pietrangelo led to Zach Hyman‘s weird angle shot turning into an own goal and bringing an end to the shutout streak at a 2:33:50.

The Leafs were mostly lifeless through the first two periods but Hyman’s goal seemed to be the jolt they needed.

Auston Matthews bagged his 28th of the season just 31 seconds later to tie the game. St. Louis challenged for (non-existent) goaltender interference and the call of a good goal on the ice was upheld.

Jordan Binnington entered the game already having set a Blues rookie record with eight straight wins, including shutouts in his past two outings. ‘Winnington’ could do little on the own goal and Matthews’ goal came off a rebound in front that he couldn’t get to. He managed to stop 31-of-33 shots to extend that record to nine straight.

His personal shutout streak ended at 173:50.

The Blues haven’t trailed in a game since Feb. 5. They were in last place on Jan. 3 but are now six points up on Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division. What a turnaround.

Meanwhile, a massive open-ice hit that Vince Dunn delivered priority mail to Nazem Kadri seems to have put the latter on the shelf.

Dunn drilled Kadri at the 8:48 mark of the first period, but Kadri stayed in the game. He took another shot, this time more of a glancing blow from Brayden Schenn, who had Toronto’s No. 43 in his crosshairs before missing at the last second.

Kadri did not emerge after the first intermission and was ruled out with a concussion not long after.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck