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NHLPA 2017-18 poll: Crosby, McDavid dominate; Underrated Backstrom

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Between September and the end of January, the National Hockey League Players’ Association polled its members on a number of topics, from best player to worst arena ice to best referee.

Over 500 players participated and some results are what you’d expect while there were a few surprises along the way. Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as you’d expect, dominated such categories as “Fastest Skater,” “Most Difficult Player to Play Against” and “Which player would you select to start a franchise?” But there were a few other topics of interest.

Which goalie is the most difficult to score on? Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens won this handily with 41 percent of the vote, and when he’s healthy, it’s tough to argue.

Who is the toughest player? Ryan Reaves, now of the Vegas Golden Knights, was a big vote-getter, earning 44.7 percent of support. He beat out the likes of Milan Lucic (14.8 percent) and Zdeno Chara (4 percent). Reaves is certainly a tough SOB, but it’s hard to imagine Chara not winning this title every year until he retires.

Who is the most underrated player? There was a time when the prevailing thought was that Loui Eriksson was the guy here. But for a long time many in the hockey world agreed with the players this year and chose Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom (8.6 percent). Playing under the shadow of Alex Ovechkin will do that, but maybe this will be the thing to give him a bit more love around the league. Right behind Backstrom was Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues (6.8 percent).

Do you like the way points are currently awarded for a win or a loss in the regular season? A whopping 77.7 percent of players said yes, which makes sense when you think about it. As the league loves to promote parity in the standings, if you’re a player, you should be happy that the loser point exists because it keeps your playoff hopes alive a little longer than the old way of two points for a win and zero points for any loss did.

Who is the best referee? The viral referee, Wes McCauley, was a big winner with 47.8 percent of votes. A willingness to conduct a calm dialogue on the ice during tense times and the ability to let players vent at the right time goes a long way to earning respect. McCauley is one of those officials. (Tim Peel at 4.4 percent, eh?)

Which rink has the worst ice? While Bell Centre earned the title of “best rink to play” in and “best ice,” among players, the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida wins worst ice (16.8 percent), followed up by Gila River Arena in Arizona (10.7 percent). In third place, and no real surprise, is Barclays Center in Brooklyn. We imagine most of the New York Islanders chose their own rink considering some of their quotes over the last few seasons.

You can check out the rest of the results at the NHLPA website.

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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.

What is the future of the World Cup of Hockey?

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Do you remember the 2004 World Cup of Hockey Final, when Canada beat Finland? Do you remember the ominous specter that hung over the entire tournament?

Do you recall what happened two days after the Canadians lifted that weird trophy? The 2004-05 lockout began, which resulted in a lost season.

If the World Cup is going to be on a regular four-year schedule the next one would be set to take place during a time when there could be Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions, which would not be ideal. The current NHL CBA runs through the end of the 2021-22 NHL season, but both sides can announce in September 2019 that they are opting out in September 2020. That’s why there hasn’t been a definitive “yes” to a 2020 tournament.

You can see why there’s hesitation here to start re-stocking Team North America gear on store shelves.

“We told the Players’ Association, based on the experience we had in the World Cup of 2004, it doesn’t make sense to be doing a World Cup and planning a World Cup when you’re in collective bargaining,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday during the Board of Governors meeting. “We either should both talk to our constituents about waiving the re-opener and doing the World Cup in 2020 or picking a different time. I’m happy to pick a different time and plan it but the Players’ Association has yet to engage in a meaningful way in terms of that decision.”

The league and players have been talking for some time about creating an international schedule, one that would include the World Cup, more games overseas, exhibitions against European teams and a Ryder Cup-style North America vs. Europe event. (Olympic participation is an entirely different animal and attending the 2022 Games in Beijing will likely be something that comes up in the next round CBA talks.)

Until the league and players come to an agreement, it remains to be seen if the World Cup, which has been held in 1996, 2004 and 2016, will ever find a regular spot on the NHL calendar.

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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.

NHL salary cap projected to rise at least $3M in 2018-19

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According to projections the NHL shared at the Board of Governors meeting on Friday, the salary cap is expected to increase by at least $3 million for the 2018-19 season.

“The league has never been healthier,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman. “The game has never been healthier. Our franchises have never been healthier.”

Currently at $75 million, if the Players’ Association chooses to use an inflator the ceiling could rise as high as $82 million. The jump to $78 million would mark the biggest rise since a $4.7 million increase for the 2014-15 season.

That would be music to the ears of a handful of NHL teams who are near the current ceiling, allowing them some extra room to maneuver for their off-season spending. It would also help teams like the Chicago Blackhawks ($66M), Los Angeles Kings ($66M), and Nashville Predators ($65M), who are already committed to at least $65 million in salary for next season, per CapFriendly. Then you have the Vegas Golden Knights, who are sitting pretty at $34 million tied up for 2018-19. You wonder how general manager George McPhee will go about using his spending space to build off their inaugural season.

The ability for the ceiling to rise by a minimum of $3 million is due to another increase in league revenues, which Bettman said is projected to hit around $4.85 billion this season, while hockey-related revenues are expected to reach $4.54 billion, an increase of 8.2 percent.

We’ve come a long way from a $39 million ceiling all the way back in 2005-06.

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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.

Overtime format highlights competition committee meeting agenda

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The topic of 3-on-3 overtime is one of a few topics on the agenda for Thursday’s competition committee meeting.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes we could see a 3-on-3 overtime format tested during the preseason, but not implemented for the 2015-16 regular season.

Also on the agenda for this week’s meeting is the coach’s challenge, the idea of the center in the defensive zone putting his stick down first during face-offs and the salary cap escalator.

Recommendations made at the competition committee meeting would have to be voted on by the NHL’s Board of Governors in late June prior to being implemented for the 2015-16 season.

The aforementioned topics were all initially discussed at the March general managers’ meetings in Boca Raton, Florida.

General managers Ken Holland, Don Maloney, David Poile along with Ed Snider will represent league (with Colin Campbell in a non-voting role) at the meeting in New York.

Mike Cammalleri, Cory Schneider, Kevin Shattenkirk and Daniel Winnik represent the NHLPA (with Mathieu Schneider in a non-voting role).

Report: World Cup to be announced during all star break

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According to TSN’s Rick Westhead the NHL and NHLPA will announce the return of the world cup of hockey during the NHL all star break, which takes place Jan. 22-26.

Westhead added one of the tweaks to the tournament will include a best-of-three final.

In November Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported potential changes to the format.

Rumored changes to the tournament include two all star teams in addition to the top six hockey nations (Canada, U.S., Sweden, Finland, Russia and Czech Republic).

One all star squad will be made up of the best players from Slovakia, Switzerland, Latvia, Germany and Slovenia, among others.

The make-up of the second all star team is yet to be determined.

Last month IIHF president Rene Fasel weighed in on the proposed changes.

“To be very honest, I like the idea. If we go with No. 7 and 8 with normal matching teams, we have that in the Olympics, we have that in the Canada Cup, we have that in the World Championships. Now having this selection. There’s a discussion about having European selection, it would be a great team with non-participating European teams building up a team,” said Fasel. “Then the second one is North American selection. That can be a very interesting for the hockey fans, great. That could be something. It is still an idea. There’s a rumor. We don’t know yet what they’re going to do. Personally, I like it very much.”

Fasel may like it, but players we here at PHT talked to were skeptical.

“It would be hard to play for some kind of different team, but I guess at the same time, a lot of the small countries, they’re producing really good players,” said Olli Jokinen, who’s represented Finland internationally on a number of occasions. “Players like that, a lot of time they don’t get a chance to play tournaments like that.”

Added U.S. Olympian, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward, James van Riemsdyk: “There’s more pride it in, for the players, when you’re representing your country. I think it’s fun when you have the different countries like you have every year in one of these tournaments there’s a big upset and that’s what makes it fun.

“I think it’s more fun when you have the countries (competing).”

Toronto is expected to be one the venues for the 2016 tournament.