Escrow tops NHL players’ list of concerns ahead of CBA talks

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Jonathan Toews says he just wants his contract to be worth what it says on paper.

Right now, it’s not that simple.

Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, NHL owners and players divide hockey-related revenue 50/50, and if player salaries exceed that split a certain percentage is withheld in escrow to make it even. The Chicago Blackhawks captain and fellow players have lost upward of 10% of their pay to escrow over the past seven seasons, which is why 25 of 31 NHL Players’ Association representatives surveyed by The Associated Press and Canadian Press named escrow as the biggest bargaining issue with September deadlines looming to terminate the current CBA effective the fall of 2020.

”A. escrow and B. escrow,” Toews said when asked the two biggest issues in labor talks.

Olympic participation, the definition of hockey-related revenue, post-career health care, concerns about youth squeezing out older players because of the salary cap and money were the other topics player reps pointed to as important to them.

Escrow, though, is a point of contention in locker rooms around the league. It is expected to be a significant topic in talks ahead of the owners’ Sept. 1 and players’ Sept. 15 deadline to opt out of this CBA and set the clock ticking toward another potential work stoppage.

”I think we, as players, are really educating ourselves on the economics of the game and how it works and why escrow is the way it is,” New Jersey Devils player rep Cory Schneider said. ”There are a lot of things that go into it, and we understand from the owners’ side how it works. But for us that’s definitely something that, it fluctuates quarter to quarter, year to year, so you never really know what it’s going to be and it’s hard to really understand what you’re earning or what your worth is when you’re getting a big chunk of it taken back.

”I don’t know if we’re going to eliminate it. Obviously we’ll figure that part out. But at least some way to mitigate it or control it better for us just to know what to expect.”

The CBA sets aside some part of a player’s salary in a bank account throughout the year. After the season, total revenue is calculated and if the league is not at its 50% share, it gets the escrow money to make up the difference.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said escrow has been discussed in talks with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and expects more to come. But there’s no quick fix to reduce or eliminate escrow without changing substantial things about the economics of the league.

”Obviously it’s an irritant to players and from time to time it can be a big one,” Fehr said. ”But the question is how you do it. I mean, you can fix escrow by cutting salaries. I don’t think players are interested in doing that. So it has to become something that you address in a manner which makes sense for the players and addresses their concerns.”

A handful of players voiced their concern that revenues aren’t growing enough to compensate for the natural growth of salaries – and the cap – over time. Because seven of 31 teams are based in Canada, the fluctuation of the Canadian dollar affects everything, and players would like to find a solution to the entire financial picture, including a look at what counts as hockey-related revenue.

”There’s definitely a concern and always an emphasis on the revenues and us growing the game,” Toronto Maple Leafs player rep John Tavares said. ”That’s a top priority because I think when we see growth, we’re obviously going to see it on the business side. When you feel the hit of escrow on top of whatever taxes we have to pay, it’s definitely something that guys notice and something you don’t enjoy seeing. It’s important to us, but in saying that the bigger picture is the growth of the game. When that happens, when we do those things right, that’ll lead to more revenues that will hopefully lead to some adjustments.”

Commissioner Gary Bettman calls escrow ”a function of the cap” and said it’s going to be higher when that upper limit on salaries is higher.

”There are things you can do, either immediately or over time (where) you can manage the cap differently, which would manage the escrow, and those are things that obviously we need to be talking about,” Bettman said.

It’s not the only thing. Many players have expressed their desire to guarantee Olympic participation, though it seems impossible to collectively bargain because the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee are also involved. Countless business and political factors will go into whether the NHL sends its players to the Beijing Games in 2022.

One issue mentioned by players that can be bargained is how players are taken care of after they retire. Vancouver Canucks player rep Bo Horvat said medical coverage, treatment for concussion issues and other things matter.

He’s not alone in prioritizing that with talks ongoing and some optimism of maintaining labor peace because the issues are at least more straightforward than the last round of talks in 2012-13.

”Post-career stuff, health care stuff, lots of little things like that that are important to players as far as livelihood going forward,” Minnesota Wild player rep Devan Dubnyk said. ”The good news is there’s not anything major, but certainly some things we’re going to want to be talked about.”

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

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.