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NHL, retired players reach $19M concussions settlement

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The National Hockey League announced a tentative $18.9 million settlement Monday with more than 300 retired players who sued the league and accused it of failing to protect them from head injuries or warning them of the risks involved with playing.

The lawsuit, consolidated in federal court in Minnesota, was by far the largest facing the league. The NHL, as it has for years, did not acknowledge any liability for the players’ claims in the proposed settlement and can terminate the deal if all 318 players or their estates don’t elect to participate.

The settlement is significantly less than the billion-dollar agreement reached between the NFL and its former players on the same issue of head injuries. Each player who opts in would receive $22,000 and could be eligible for up to $75,000 in medical treatment.

”The cash amount of $22,000, that’s small, but we were always looking for (medical) coverage to begin with,” said former player Reed Larson, who was among the first to sue the league over head injuries that could lead to the brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. ”The bottom line is this is monitoring, testing and hopefully help for players that will either have (CTE) now or could get it in the future.”

Players’ attorney Stuart Davidson said he knows there will be comparisons between the NHL and NFL settlements, even though they differ drastically.

”When you have a defendant who has spent millions of dollars litigating a case for four years to prove that nothing is wrong with getting your brain bashed in, you can only get so far,” Davidson told The Associated Press. ”I think it’s important for players who have an opportunity to settle their case with the NHL now to understand that before they get anything through a trial against the NHL it’s going to cost millions of dollars in experts to get there, and that’s going to have to be paid for before they see a penny from any recovery, assuming they win.”

An NHL spokesman said the league would not make any comment until after the opt-in period of 75 days for players. There were 146 players who added their names to the lawsuit as plaintiffs between November 2013 and this August and 172 more who joined as claimants.

In addition to the cash payment, the settlement includes neurological testing and assessment for players paid for by the league; up to $75,000 in medical treatment for players who test positive on two or more tests; and a ”Common Good Fund” for retired players in need, including those who did not participate in the litigation, worth $2.5 million.

Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby, who has dealt with concussion problems throughout his career but is not involved in the lawsuit that includes only retired players, told reporters after practice the league, Players’ Association and others must all have a role in the issue.

”It’s something as players that we know that risk,” Crosby said. ”Obviously we know a lot more now than we did before, even a lot more than we did when I had my first one. It’s something you hope they can mutually agree on. It’s something that I think is important from both sides.”

Retired player Daniel Carcillo, one of the plaintiffs, urged players not to accept the settlement. In a series of tweets , he said players would be forced to see the same NHL and NHLPA doctors to determine if they’d be eligible for treatment.

Carcillo also asked for Wayne Gretzky’s thoughts: ”I want him to use his platform to help the men who protected him throughout his career. Lack of pressure from former players is a direct result of this insulting attempt at a settlement.”

Charles Zimmerman, who was a lead attorney for players, said he was most disappointed the lawsuit couldn’t assure future benefits for all retired players like in the NFL.

”I think it’s a very appropriate result and a good outcome in a very contested, hotly litigated matter,” Zimmerman said. ”The main goal in the case was to get medical testing and treatment for the players, something that the NHL wouldn’t agree to for the four years that we’d been litigating and that’s what we achieved.”

The settlement comes four months after a federal judge denied class-action status for the retired players, a significant victory for the league in the lawsuit filed in November 2013. U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in July denied class-action status, citing ”widespread differences” in state laws about medical monitoring that would ”present significant case management difficulties.”

The bid for class-action status would have created one group of all living former NHL players and one group of all retired players diagnosed with a neurological disease, disorder or condition. Had Nelson certified the class action, more than 5,000 former players would have been able to join the case.

”It’s not surprising after the NHL prevailed on the class-action motion that there would have been movements in this direction,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr told reporters in Toronto. ”I’m glad for the parties that it’s all over. Hopefully people can go on with their lives and now we can perhaps deal with these issues with the NHL without having to worry about the effect on the litigation.”

Davidson called Nelson’s decision a ”watershed moment” for the case and that players lost leverage as a result.

”It severely limited the damages to the NHL owners and benefits to the NHL players,” Vanderbilt University sports economic professor John Vrooman wrote in an email to the AP. ”This decision essentially forced the 140 (plus) players involved in the suit to settle and prevented the participation of all other potential litigants. So it will seem that both sides ‘won’ in what was really a lopsided victory for the owners. It’s just that all of the owners won by gaining current and future protection from damages and a minor fraction of the players won something that they would have zero chance in obtaining in isolation versus the league.”

Settlement talks ramped back up in July with an agreement reached Nov. 7.

Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly have, on multiple occasions, said the lawsuit had no merit.

”When it comes to focusing on concussions and trying to understand them and how to treat them, we’ve been leaders in the field,” Bettman told the AP in May. ”And that gets completely lost in the rhetoric of the litigation, and I don’t like discussing the litigation. There is a sense because it gets sensationalized that the reality of our position with player safety is somehow at odds with the reality of the science and the medicine and it’s not true. We study it very closely.”

The NFL settlement covers more than 20,000 retired players, and lawyers expect payouts to top $1.5 billion over 65 years. As of last month , the NFL concussion lawsuit claims panel has approved more than $500 million in awards and paid out $330 million.

AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow and Associated Press Writer Amy Forliti contributed to this report.

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

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

PHT Morning Skate: Players with most at stake in Cup Final; Bergeron’s postseason

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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.

• Rotoworld’s Gus Katsaros breaks down Patrice Bergeron‘s performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Rotoworld)

• Travis Yost explains why getting an early lead in hockey is a good thing, and it’s not for the reason you might think. (TSN)

• Which team should you root for in the Stanley Cup Final? (ESPN)

• Which players have the most at stake in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final? (NBC Sports Boston)

Mats Zuccarello could be an intriguing addition for the New Jersey Devils. (All About the Jersey)

Nolan Patrick will have to take a big step forward next season. (Broad Street Hockey)

• As good as Morgan Rielly was for the Leafs this season, there’s a chance he might continue to get better. (Leafs Nation)

• There have been rumblings about Phil Kessel being traded to Minnesota, but is that a wise move for the Pens? (Pensburgh)

• D.J. Smith has had to pay his dues on his way to becoming an NHL head coach. (Ottawa Sun)

• Chicago Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson has an interesting strategy when it comes to pulling his goaltender. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• The Winnipeg Jets have to find a way to stop taking so many penalties. (Arctic Ice Hockey)

• The Stars will benefit from the increase in the salary cap this off-season. (Blackout Dallas)

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.

Marchand appears to avert injury scare in Bruins Cup tuneup

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BOSTON (AP) — Boston Bruins scoring leader Brad Marchand returned without missing a shift after appearing to hurt his left hand Thursday night when the team held an intrasquad scrimmage to tune up for the Stanley Cup Final.

Marchand bumped into Connor Clifton in front of the net ”and jammed his … I don’t know what he jammed,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.

”Injury risk was our biggest concern tonight. It will be Saturday when we practice at the regular time, and Sunday,” Cassidy said. ”He’s fine.”

With 10 days off between their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference finals and Monday night’s opener of the best-of-seven Cup final against the St. Louis Blues, the Bruins scheduled the scrimmage to stay sharp.

”It was good to get out there, and we appreciate the support,” forward David Pastrnak said. ”It’s starting to feel real.”

Tickets were $20 and the 17,565-seat TD Garden was sold out, with the proceeds going to the Boston Bruins Foundation. Fans chanted ”We Want the Cup!” and ”Let’s Go Bruins!” and gave the team a standing ovation after Patrice Bergeron tipped a puck between his legs during a six-on-five, pulled goalie simulation before the buzzer.

Captain Zdeno Chara and Bergeron, the alternate captain, thanked the crowd after the scrimmage.

Marchand skated off flexing his hand near the end of the first 25-minute half. He appeared to be in discomfort on the bench, but was back for his next shift.

Cassidy left it up to the players to decide how much work they needed.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask played just one half. Chara, who missed the clincher of the East finals for undisclosed reasons, played the entire game. David Krejci showed up at the arena with an illness and was sent home, but he should be fine for Monday’s game, Cassidy said.

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

Sharks head into uncertain offseason with key free agents

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — If Joe Thornton comes back for a 22nd season in the NHL, it would only be with the San Jose Sharks. Captain Joe Pavelski is confident he will get a deal done to stay with the franchise he joined as a draft pick back in 2003.

The situation with the other major potential unrestricted free agent is far less certain. After Erik Karlsson‘s injury-plagued first season in San Jose ended with him sitting at home with an injured groin during a Game 6 loss at St. Louis in the Western Conference final, the star defenseman said he hasn’t thought yet about his plans for the summer.

”I’ve been treated with nothing but class and respect here,” Karlsson said Thursday. ”I’ve seen the best side of what this organization and this city has and I like everything I’ve seen. Now I have to kind of regroup and assess everything. A lot of things can happen. It’s a weird business we’re in. I enjoyed my time here. Whatever happens is going to happen for a reason.”

Karlsson had a less-than-ideal season after being acquired as potentially the final piece needed for a championship in a trade from Ottawa on the eve of training camp. He struggled to adjust to his new team early in the season before playing at an elite level for about six weeks when the Sharks looked as good as any team in the league.

Karlsson then injured his groin and missed 27 of the final 33 regular-season games before returning for the playoffs, lacking his usual burst as a skater. Even at less than 100% in the postseason, Karlsson showed flashes of his playmaking with 14 assists and two goals, including the overtime winner in Game 3 against the Blues.

But he was unable to play for a long stretch late in a Game 4 loss and was limited in a Game 5 loss before sitting out the third period. He couldn’t go at all in Game 6.

In the final game, the Sharks were also without Pavelski, who re-injured his knee in Game 5, and forward Tomas Hertl, who had a concussion. That left little in the tank for a team that won a pair of Game 7s already in the playoffs, including an epic three-goal comeback in the final game of the first round against Vegas after Pavelski left with a bloody concussion.

”If you lose your difference-makers, it’s difficult,” general manager Doug Wilson said. ”But this group always bounced back and found a way, for that we’re extremely proud. No excuses, line up, next man up, all those things that you hear, this group lived that. I’ll be honest: I’ve been in this business 40 years. I think the thing that epitomizes this group is the Vegas game, Game 7 where you see the emotional chaos of your captain going down, being carried off and how the group responded, showed you everything you needed to know about this group. I’ll remember that moment forever.”

Pavelski and Thornton have been integral parts of the Sharks for years. Pavelski was a seventh-round draft pick in 2003 and has scored 355 goals in 13 seasons, becoming captain and a fan favorite during his journey.

Thornton arrived in a franchise-altering trade from Boston on Nov. 30, 2005, turning the Sharks into a perennial Cup contender that can never quite win it all.

”They drive the environment,” coach Peter DeBoer said. ”They drive the messaging every day in here. From a coach’s perspective, those guys are invaluable people for us.”

Whether they come back is not yet certain.

The Sharks opted not to extend Pavelski’s contract last summer when he came off a 22-goal season hampered by injuries. But his level of play rose this year with a team-leading 38 goals and he will be eligible to hit the open market in July, shortly before his 35th birthday.

”I know I’m going to be playing hockey next year. Hopefully it’s going to be here,” he said. ”We love it here. I think something will happen, who really knows, but coming off a lot of emotions coming through the playoffs and that round, we’ll sit down and take a look at what will happen here.”

The situation with Thornton is simpler. If he wants to come back for another season at age 40, it would only be with the Sharks. He plans to sit down with his family and Sharks management before making his decision.

Thornton finished this season for a change after needing major knee surgery the past two years. He’s accomplished almost everything in a career, ranking eighth all-time with 1,065 assists and 14th with 1,478 points but hasn’t won a championship.

His teammates and coaches talked all postseason about wanting to win for Thornton and came close before ultimately falling six wins short.

”I didn’t buy into that,” Thornton said. ”I think that was more for you guys. I think this whole area needs a Cup. They’re definitely on the right track, and just disappointing for this area not to be playing, like I said, next week, but this was a really fun team to watch, entertaining team to watch, and an inspirational team to watch.”

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

Arbitrator upholds Voynov suspension but says he served half

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — An arbitrator upheld Slava Voynov’s one-season NHL suspension Thursday but is giving him credit for serving half of it in 2018-19.

Commissioner Gary Bettman suspended the former Los Angeles Kings defenseman for the upcoming season and the 2020 playoffs after determining he committed acts of domestic violence. The NHL Players Association appealed the ruling.

Arbitrator Shyam Das upheld Bettman’s decision that Voynov should be suspended for the equivalent of one NHL season but found he should be credited with having already served 41 games of the suspension last season. So Voynov will now be eligible to return midway through next season.

This marks the third time Das has reduced a suspension in the past eight months. He reduced Nashville forward Austin Watson‘s suspension for domestic violence from 27 to 18 games and later shortened Washington enforcer Tom Wilson‘s suspension by six to 14 games for repeated on-ice hits to the head.

The Kings, who terminated Voynov’s $25 million contract in 2015 but retain his rights due to his status on the voluntary retired list, said in a statement Thursday that he will not play for Los Angeles.

”We will now determine the impact of the arbitrator’s decision on our rights to the player and consider our options going forward,” the team said.

The league said in a statement that it was satisfied the arbitrator supported the penalty in regards to the severity of Voynov’s actions.

The league added that ”while we do not believe Mr. Voynov was entitled to any ‘credit’ for time missed, we accept Arbitrator Das’ conclusion that the precise factual context here was unusual – including the fact Voynov has not played in the NHL since October 2014, and that he did not play professional hockey at all during the 2018-19 season.”

The NHLPA said in a statement that ”this fundamental due process right is designed to ensure that, even in difficult cases involving domestic violence, the NHL’s disciplinary procedures and decisions are fair and consistent. The NHLPA continues to work with the NHL to educate players about domestic violence.”

Voynov’s agent, Roland Melanson, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Voynov was suspended indefinitely in October 2014 after being arrested and accused of abusing his wife. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor, left the United States to go back to Russia and in July had the conviction dismissed by a judge in Los Angeles. His most recent suspension was imposed in April after he applied for reinstatement.

The 29-year-old Russian last played an NHL game on Oct. 19, 2014. He won a pair of Stanley Cup titles with the Kings in 2012 and 2014.

Since his last NHL game, Voynov played three seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and won a gold medal at the 2018 Olympics. NHL players didn’t compete at the Pyeongchang Games.

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