Women pushing for new hockey league staring at open calendar

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For Kimberly Sass, the decision to risk missing a season of hockey in a bid for a better professional women’s league came down to simple choice.

Dollars and cents matter more than ice time and stopping pucks.

”In April, I came to realize that after tax write-offs, including equipment, travel and taxes I paid more to play professional ice hockey in 2018 than I made,” the Metropolitan Riveters goaltender said. ”It is the financially responsible decision to not play professional women’s ice hockey next season.”

Sass , who is also an architect in New York City, is among the more than 200 of the world’s top female players who announced they will not play professional hockey in North America next season in a bold attempt to establish a single, economically viable league. While members of national teams get stipend money from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada and some sponsorships, some have been paid as little as $2,000 a year to play.

The decision to sit out was not easy, nor was it fully unified despite the large number. Time waits for no one in sports, and not practicing with teammates or playing games is a heavy blow. Staying in ”hockey shape” is a concern.

Women on national teams will have practices and tournaments like the Four Nations Cup in November and the 2020 world championships. Liz Knox, goalie and co-chair of the players’ union for the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, said she expects to see more support from Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to keep those players fit.

Still, many players are just trying to figure out what’s next, and those conversations haven’t been held yet in the wake of organizing this push for a sustainable league. Knox said the challenge is balancing resources. Simply playing in a beer league wouldn’t be fair to players already in those leagues.

”So where do we fit in here?” Knox said. ”I don’t know. That’s something that we’re still trying to navigate.”

The clock is ticking for older players, including several of the stars who ended the United States’ Olympic gold medal drought in 2018. Meghan Duggan, captain of that U.S. team, will be 32 in September and has played in both the CWHL and NWHL. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who helped clinch Olympic gold for the United States in 2018 with her shootout goal, and sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando turn 30 in July.

Both sisters took off the past year to start families with each having sons last winter, and now they face a second season without hockey. Lamoureux-Davidson says the twins are trained by her sister’s husband and also skate at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The next step will be trying to figure out how everyone can train and stay sharp on the ice.

”And hopefully there’s support from other organizations, and I think there’s conversations about that,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. ”But yeah, definitely that’s where the concern comes in for a lot of players as well is, ‘What am I going to do to be where I need to be when there’s a place to play?”’

Sass already knows the challenge of taking a break from hockey, having thought she retired not once but twice. The first came right after graduating from Colgate and choosing graduate school over the CWHL or playing in Europe. Following the National Women’s Hockey League’s first season with Buffalo, she thought her career over again when she couldn’t find a position on another team. She didn’t work out or train with a goalie coach, making it tougher when she got a call just before the 2017-18 season.

Like many players, Sass juggles a traditional job with hockey. She has had colleagues ask why she works as an architect if she’s a professional hockey player, and she missed the Riveters’ last playoff game in March not wanting to take off an extra half day from her new job because travel to Minnesota was routed round-trip through North Carolina.

Sass said she knows at age 28 she might not play in the new league the women want.

”It’s really a personal decision for players to decide to continue training to keep doors open or to help the game in other ways,” Sass said.

Every woman who decided not to play in North America this next season understands that some may never benefit, and Lamoureux-Davidson said that is part of the push to create something that can last.

”I think everyone understands that it’s much bigger than any one individual’s career, and we’re all proud to stand together and hopefully make a big difference for the next generation,” she said.

Anything should be better than a typical Thursday for Knox while she was playing for the CWHL’s Markham Thunder. She worked her day job as a contractor from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m., grabbed dinner, went to class training for a career as a firefighter between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. before driving to practice. Knox said she could not remember the last time she got a full eight hours’ sleep balancing professional hockey and work.

”You’re looking at 6 a.m. to an 11 p.m. day, and we shouldn’t have to do that,” Knox said.

AP Hockey Writers John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno contributed.

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Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Donato gets two-year, $3.8 million extension from Wild

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Ryan Donato took advantage of a bigger opportunity with the Minnesota Wild and earned himself a raise on Tuesday.

The Wild announced that they have extended the 23-year-old Donato with a two-year, $3.8 million contract. That $1.9 million annual salary will be a bump from the $925,000 he made during the 2018-19 NHL season.

Following a February trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins, Donato saw his ice time rise over three minutes under Bruce Boudreau and that resulted in four goals and 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota. Unable to carve out his own role in Boston, Donato struggled offensively with six goals and nine points in 34 games before moving.

“I definitely learned the business side of it, for sure,” Donato said in April. “One thing I learned, in Boston and here, it’s a game of ups and downs. More than college, more than any level, there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the whole year, but definitely over the last couple months it’s settled down quite a bit.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Donato, who was a restricted free agent and will remain one when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, continued his production in the American Hockey League’s notching 11 points in 14 games between the end of the Iowa Wild’s regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about opportunity in this league,” Donato said. “If I can get myself into scoring positions playing with the high-end veteran players we have here, that have been known to find guys in scoring positions, then I’m a guy that can bury it.”

The Wild have high hopes for next season as they expect to be a playoff team coming out of what will be a very, very competitive Central Division. General manager Paul Fenton added Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello to boost the team’s offense which finished fourth-worst in the NHL in goals per game (2.56). Donato will be expected to be a key contributor.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trade: Blackhawks send Anisimov to Senators for Zack Smith

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Artem Anisimov‘s name has been floating in trade speculation for more than a year now, and on Tuesday afternoon the Chicago Blackhawks finally moved him.

The Blackhawks announced they have traded Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for forward Zack Smith. It is a one-for-one deal that will probably make a bigger impact on both team’s financial situations than on the ice.

Both players are 31 years old, have two years remaining on their current contracts, and are coming off of somewhat similar seasons in terms of their performance. Anisimov scored 15 goals and 37 points in 78 games for the Blackhawks this past season, while Smith had nine goals and 28 points in 70 games for the Senators.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

So what is important here for both teams? Money, obviously.

For the Blackhawks, the Anisimov-for-Smith swap saves them a little more than $1 million against the salary cap as they go from Anisimov’s $4.5 salary cap hit to Smith’s $3.25 number. For a team that is consistently pressed against the cap and still has a ton of big-money players, every little bit of extra space helps. Especially as they have to work out new deals for Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome over the next year.

The Senators, meanwhile, had a different set of problems.

They were still sitting under the league’s salary floor before the trade and are now finally above it.

Anisimov’s contract not only gets them over the floor, but because the Blackhawks have already paid Anisimov’s signing bonus for this season the Senators actually owe him less in terms of actual salary, which is also probably an important factor for a team that is seemingly always in a cost-cutting and money-saving mode.

The Blackhawks have been extremely busy this offseason making multiple changes to their roster after a second straight non-playoff season. Along with acquiring Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan in trades to try and upgrade their defense, they also signed goalie Robin Lehner in free agency and brought back veteran forward Andrew Shaw.

This past week they traded former first-round pick defender Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres for Alex Nylander.

Related: Blackhawks shaping up as NHL’s biggest wild card

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

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When it comes to the NHL’s restricted free agent market this summer most of the attention has been directed at forwards Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, and Sebastian Aho. They are the stars, the big point-producers, and in the case of Aho, the rare player that actually received — and signed — an offer sheet from another team, only to have the Carolina Hurricanes quickly move to match it. For now, though, let’s shift the focus to the blue line where there are a few more big contracts still to be settled this summer with Jacob Trouba, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, and Ivan Provorov all waiting on new deals from their respective teams.

The two most intriguing players out of this group are Columbus’ Werenski and Boston’s McAvoy because they are already playing at an elite level among NHL defenders.

Just how good have they been?

Both are coming off of their age 21 seasons and have already demonstrated an ability to play at a top-pairing level on playoff caliber teams.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season there have only been four defenders that have hit all of the following marks through their age 21 season:

  • At least 100 games played
  • Averaged at least .50 points per game
  • And had a Corsi Percentage (shot-attempt differential) of greater than 52 percent at that point in their careers.

Those players have been Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Werenski, and McAvoy.

That is it.

Pretty elite company.

Based on that, it seems at least somewhat reasonable to look at the contracts Karlsson and Doughty received at the same point in their careers when they were coming off of their entry-level deals.

They were massive.

Karlsson signed a seven-year, $45.5 million deal with the Ottawa Senators, while Doughty signed an eight-year, $56 million contract. At the time, those contracts were worth around 10 percent of the league’s salary cap. A similarly constructed contract under today’s cap would come out to an annual cap hit of around $8 million dollars, which would be among the five highest paid defenders in the league.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Are Werenski and McAvoy worth similar contracts right now? They just might be.

The argument against it would be that while the overall performances are in the same ballpark, there are still some significant differences at play. Karlsson, for example, was coming off of a Norris Trophy winning season when he signed his long-term deal in Ottawa and was already on track to being one of the best offensive defensemen ever (he was already up to .68 points per game!). Doughty, meanwhile, was a significantly better defensive player than the other three and had already been a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

Neither Werenski or McAvoy has reached that level yet, while Werenski also sees a pretty significant drop in his performance when he is not paired next to Seth Jones, which could be a concern depending on how much value you put into such a comparison. It’s also worth pointing out that Jones sees a similar drop when he is not paired next to Werenski, and that the two are absolutely dominant when they are together.

But do those points outweigh the production and impact that Werenski and McAvoy have made, and the potential that they still possess in future years?

What they have already accomplished from a performance standpoint is almost unheard of for defenders of their age in this era of the league. It is also rare for any player of any level of experience.

Over the past three years only 15 other defenders have topped the 0.50 points per game and a 52 percent Corsi mark. On average, those players make $7 million per season under the cap, while only three of them — Roman Josi, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Erik Gustafsson — make less than $5 million per year. Josi is also due for a huge raise over the next year that will almost certainly move him into the $7-plus million range as well.

Bottom line is that the Blue Jackets and Bruins have top-pairing defenders on their hands that still have their best days in the NHL ahead of them. There is every reason to believe they are on track to be consistent All-Star level players and signing them to big deals right now, this summer, will probably turn out to be worth every penny.

Related: Bruins face salary cap juggling act with McAvoy, Carlo

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.