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Quiet nature of NHL labor talks breeds cautious optimism

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Representatives from the NHL and NHL Players’ Association have met numerous times over the past eight months and not once in a secret underground bunker or a dark parking garage.

Unlike previous collective bargaining negotiations that spilled out into the public, few details are emerging from behind closed doors, a development that provides more than a little quiet optimism that hockey won’t face its third work stoppage in two decades.

”It’s probably the way it should be, and I think that’s probably a good sign that there is some mutual respect and both sides are trying to come to agreements,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. ”You have mutual dedication to keeping our game going down the same path and not disrupting that.”

Players have until Sunday to decide whether to opt out of the current labor contract effective September 2020 after owners decided earlier this month not to trigger their opt-out clause. The sides met twice in the past five days to try to hammer out a CBA extension, and the fragments of reports coming out of talks suggest an environment of cooperation that is less contentious than previous negotiations.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr described talks as cordial and pleasant. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called it joint problem-solving. That doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements, but they may not be big enough to cause the cancellation of games, which is what happened in 2012-13 and 2004-05.

”This is an outgrowth of a relationship that is many years old, even with Don in hockey coming over from baseball,” Bettman said. ”It’s a dialogue that continues. It’s a relationship that’s important, there’s mutual respect, there’s good communication flow and we’re busy focused on what may for each of our constituents be the appropriate path forward.”

On the job since 2010, Fehr said these talks have so far been ”free from rancor” and deemed that a big improvement. It’s certainly a divergence from the past two CBA disputes in the NHL that were marred by leaks. It all leads labor expert Stephen F. Ross to infer talks are progressing better this time around.

”The NHL has a particular history that I think would allow a, not 100 percent choice, but a relatively optimistic interpretation of silence,” said Ross, director of the Penn State Institute for Sports Law, Policy and Research. ”The fact that there’s nothing public and no leaks suggests to me a high likelihood that things are going well and nobody wants to damage the good relations.”

Toews and other prominent players have made it known they’re not happy with some financial aspects of the CBA, namely the escrow payments connected to the 50/50 split of hockey revenues with owners. Health care and Olympic participation are also issues, though there could by other topics moving to the forefront privately.

That’s no accident.

”We’ve been told to give the answer that we’re working on it,” Arizona Coyotes player representative Derek Stepan said. ”Everyone’s on the same page, and that’s huge. I went through the one in 2012 and it seemed a little more chaotic. But this one, it seems a little more organized and guys are on the same page, and that’s a huge thing.”

Bettman and the owners showed a unified front in announcing they would like to maintain labor peace for the next few years because the league is healthy. It’s no surprise given the owners’ gains in the 2005 and 2013 agreements that they feel this way, and players were always the ones most likely to reopen this CBA to tweak some things.

Several players said the diverse, 700-plus-member NHLPA is united on what is important and how to proceed. Roughly 50 players met last week in Chicago, and there is consensus talks are moving in the right direction.

”Just from what I’ve heard, everything’s been really positive,” Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. ”I try not to read into everything too much, but I think initially everything seems really good.”

If players decide not to opt out, the NHL is guaranteed labor peace for at least the next three seasons with the hope the two sides can extend it longer than that. A CBA extension could still happen over the next year if players opt out, but there’s no telling how that move might change negotiations.

”If they opt out, then we’ll have to be focused on this at the time a little differently than we are right now,” Bettman said. ”I’m not going to threaten anything. I’m not going to suggest anything. We’ll deal with it if that’s what happens. It’s their decision and I don’t want to say anything that impacts that decision one way or the other. It’ll be what it’ll be.”

Ross said Fehr, who was the longtime head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, is a master at playing the chess match of preparing for and weighing various scenarios in bargaining talks. He’s not showing his hand on which way the NHLPA might be leaning.

”Guys understand the importance of this and what’s coming up, they’re informed and we’re on the same page,” said Ryan O'Reilly, whose St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup last season. ”There’s stuff going on, and hopefully it gets solved the right way.”

The Buzzer: Cirelli, Lightning cruise past Jets; Crosby tallies OT winner

Anthony Cirelli #71 of the Tampa Bay Lightning
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Three Stars

1) Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning

Cirelli recorded his first NHL hat trick as the Lightning steamrolled the Winnipeg Jets Friday evening. The 22-year-old scored twice in the opening period as the Bolts jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back. Cirelli hammered a feed from Ondrej Palat 9:27 into the game and then converted a nifty forehand-backhand maneuver to close out the first 20 minutes. Cirelli would complete the hat trick midway through the third period.

2) Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin recorded two power-play assists to set up Pittsburgh’s two goals in its 2-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings. Sidney Crosby has received a lot of attention since returning from a 28-game absence earlier this week and added the game-winning goal Friday. However, it was Malkin who looked off the defender and delivered a perfect pass to set up the Penguins captain. Malkin has recorded 10 points in the previous six games.

3) Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

The 26-year-old winger scored twice in Tampa Bay’s 7-1 win. Cirelli and Kucherov alternated goals as Tampa Bay jumped out to a 4-0 lead, including three in the opening period. Kucherov buried two tap-in opportunities to record goals 21 and 22 on the season. The Russian winger has five goals in his previous three games and the Lightning improved to 12-2-0 in the previous 14 games.

Highlights of the Night

Crosby extended his goal-scoring streak to three games when he buried a pretty feed from Malkin to propel the Penguins in overtime.

Sam Steel fired the OT winner after Andrei Svechnikov‘s costly turnover.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 2, Detroit Red Wings 1 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 2, Carolina Hurricanes 1 (OT)

Tampa Bay Lightning 7, Winnipeg Jets 1

NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
• All-Star Game rosters
• Rosters for Elite Women’s 3-on-3 Revealed
• Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
• Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game
• NHL Skills Competition to feature women’s 3-on-3, pucks shot from stands

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

Predators’ Arvidsson fined $2,000 under NHL diving policy

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NEW YORK (AP) — Nashville Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson has been fined $2,000 by the NHL under the league’s rules regarding diving and embellishment.

NHL Rule 64 was designed to penalize players who repeatedly dive and embellish in an attempt to draw penalties. A player gets a warning for a first citation and a $2,000 fine for the second citation.

League officials said Arvidsson received a warning following an incident Dec. 27 against Pittsburgh. His second citation occurred during an incident in the first period of a Jan. 7 game with Boston that resulted in coincidental minor penalties on Arvidsson and Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

Fine proceeds go to the players’ emergency assistance fund.

Fans troll with Tkachuk billboard, charities end up the big winners

Tkachuk billboard Kassian Flames Oilers
via CJAY 92
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Matthew Tkachuk‘s trolling made a great impact, and not just by earning the Flames a power play. Thanks to enterprising Flames and Oilers fans, a drive to put up a Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton morphed into something much more, raising a ton of money – more than $50K overall, it seems – for charitable causes.

It’s the sort of thing that might even make Zack Kassian smile.

[Catch up on the feud: Kassian threatens Tkachuk after suspension; witness the carnage]

This began with a modest Tkachuk billboard meant to gently torment

The ball really got (t)rolling when Mohamed Elsaghir (self-proclaimed “second most-hated man in Edmonton after Matthew Tkachuk) started a GoFundMe drive to put up Tkachuk billboards to torment Oilers fans.

CTV’s Glenn Campbell chronicles how that amusing idea morphed into something much bigger. Not only are Tkachuk billboards going up, but the process looks like it will raise at least $20K for ALS research.

The viral sensation drew the attention of Calgary radio station CJAY 92, which is owned by Bell Media. That connection made the billboards happen, and oh are the designs ever glorious:

With the billboards taken care of by CJAY 92/Bell Media, Elsaghir instead shifted the focus of that $10K donation drive to combating ALS. Elsaghir noted that proceeds will be donated to Snowy Strong for ALS in honor of Flames assistant GM Chris Snow’s battle with the disease. To make it even better, entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson pledged to match that $10K, pushing the money raised to $20K and counting.

Oh, and even that doesn’t cover the extent of the money raised by the raised ire between Tkachuk and Kassian.

Oilers fans get into the charitable, trolling spirit, too

Edmonton resident Samantha Costa made about a $25 donation to Calgary charity Brown Bagging It “in honor of Kassian.” That charity seeks to serve needy children with lunches. With that in mind, Costa ended her tweet with a nice barb:I chose @BrownBaggingIt so that kids can get a proper meal and grow up to be tougher than Tkachuk.”

Well, Costa’s tweet went viral, too.

To make this all more delightful, Brown Bagging It has been sharing updates that indicate this side of “The Charitable Battle of Alberta” will be competitive, too.

Wow.

Flames and Oilers meet again soon, and will get to see the Tkachuk billboard

Other NHL trash-talkers need to step their games up now, to be frank. Brad Marchand needs to lick this one now, is what I’m saying.

The Tkachuk billboard notes that the Flames – Oilers “the friendship tour” continues in Edmonton on Jan. 29. After that, the two teams meet in Calgary on Feb. 1. They also close out the regular season in Calgary on April 4.

Kassian vs. Tkachuk Part II already ranked as must-watch hockey, and a potential mess for the NHL. Following this inspiring charitable drive, it’s even more exciting. Honestly, “The Battle of Alberta” just keeps piling on reasons to cross our fingers for a playoff series.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Pass or Fail: LA Kings’ 2020 Stadium Series jerseys

adidas / Kings
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One day after the Colorado Avalanche showed off their jerseys for next month’s Stadium Series game, the Los Angeles Kings revealed what they will wear when they hit the ice at at Falcon Stadium on Feb. 15 (8 p.m. ET; NBC).

As is tradition for Stadium Series games, the design is very unique and out there. The black, white, and silver is there along with the LA from their regular jerseys “taking flight” since the game will take place on the campus of the Air Force Academy.

adidas / Kings

Now while you’re maybe distracted by the black and white of the jerseys and the sweet white gloves, do not overlook one neat feature: the shiny silver helmets.

adidas / Kings

Some additional notes from adidas:

Crest: A new L.A. crest takes flight on diagonal bisected blocking, inspired by aircraft battle stripes.

Design: The architecture of the venue’s Air Force Academy, coupled with a pilot’s ambition to push to the edge, inspired the oblique angles used to shape the jersey’s typography and numbering. A checkerboard design graphic is implemented along the neckline.

What do you think? The black, white, and silver against the burgundy, blue, and white will be an interesting look on the ice.

MORE: Avalanche reveal 2020 Stadium Series jersey

The 2020 Stadium Series game between the Avalanche and Kings will take place Feb. 15 at Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo.. The game will air on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.

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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.