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COUNTDOWN TO SHUTDOWN: 32 DAYS

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COUNTDOWN TO SHUTDOWN: 32 DAYS

By Ben Raby
CSNwashington.com

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was among 23 members of the NHL Players Association who met with union chief Donald Fehr Tuesday in Toronto in hopes of averting a potential work stoppage.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has threatened to lock out the Leagues players if a new collective bargaining agreement is not in place by Sept. 15 and talks between the NHL and the PA are slowly intensifying.

The two sides are meeting for four days this week in Toronto and Tuesdays session saw the PA make its first formal proposal in these negotiations.

The PAs presentation came a month after League owners put forth their initial proposal which included significant cuts in player salaries and limitations regarding contract lengths and free agency.

Among the biggest hurdles the NHL and the PA face is how to divvy up the Leagues annual hockey related revenue (HRR) between owners and players.

Under the CBA signed in 2005, players have received 57 percent of annual HRR- an amount that has been reflected annually with the players salary cap. Just as the NHLs hockey related revenues have increased in each of the last seven years, so too has the salary cap ceiling (set at 70.2 million for 2012-13).

In their initial offer last month though, the owners proposed that the players receive only 46 percent of the NHLs annual HRR moving forward.

In their counter-proposal Tuesday, the PA did not place a specific number or percentage on how much HRR they should receive. Instead, the PA proposed a fixed increase on player salaries (reflected by an increase in the annual salary cap) for each of the next three years.
Since the NHLs 2005 work stoppage, team payrolls have risen annually at the same rate that the Leagues annual hockey related revenue has increased.

Over that time the NHLs annual revenue has increased by a yearly average of seven percent meaning that the salary cap has also grown by an average of seven percent in each of the last seven years.

According to the PAs proposal, player salaries would increase in each of the next three years by fixed amounts as opposed to being tied directly to league HRR.

The PA is arguing for player salaries to increase by two percent in the first year of the agreement, by four percent in year two and by six percent in year three. The players argue that based on the annual average increase of seven percent in league revenue there will be greater profits for club owners.

Fehr went as far as to suggest that if the NHLs annual revenue continues to grow at the existing average rate, the deal could see the players sacrifice as much as 465 million in salaries in the first three years.

The PAs hope is that the owners would benefit from greater profits in the first three years of a new deal- profits they hope will be dispersed to struggling franchises through greater revenue sharing in an effort to strengthen the league as a whole.

"In essence, when you boil it all down, what were suggesting is that the players partner with the financially stronger owners to stabilize the industry and assist the less financially strong ownership groups," Fehr told reporters in Toronto.

There were some NHL pundits who expected the players to fight for the elimination of a salary cap altogether, or at the very least argue in favor of a soft cap that would allow teams to exceed the agreed upon cap number but be forced to pay a luxury tax.

Instead the PA left the hard salary cap in place, while also arguing for player contracts to remain unchanged as they relate to term limits, salary arbitration rights and free agency eligibility.

I like it a lot," Crosby said of the proposal. "I think, as Don said, it's addressing the issues that the league has. Were making sure as players that we do our part to help those (struggling) teams out, but also holding the teams accountable At the end of the day, it's going to take both (sides) to do that."

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

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USA TODAY Sports

With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.

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Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Alex Ovechkin said the Caps would return to Washington with a tied series. The Caps captain is a man of his word as the Caps won both Game 3 and Game 4 to even up the series at two games apiece.

John Tortorella had no answers after seeing his Columbus Blue Jackets fall in Game 4, but he will have to figure things out quickly as the series shifts back to Washington for a pivotal Game 5.

The Caps return home with two straight wins and all the momentum. There's just one problem: No one seemingly can win at home.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 5

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC.

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 on NBC Sports' live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 5 on Saturday, April 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Washington. The series is tied 2-2.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Tune back to NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Blue Jackets on NBC
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 5 is available to stream live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE