The NHL and its players are speeding toward their secondwork stoppage in eight years, primarily because they refuse to speak the samelanguage.Today in New York,commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Donald Fehr will take each other's proposals and present them to their respective members -- Bettman to the NHL Board of Governors and Fehr to close to 300 players.What the players will find is that the owners are demanding another rollbackof salaries this time in the 10 percent range dropping the players percentageof hockey-related revenue from their current 57 percent to 49 percent nextseason and slowly decreasing to 47 percent by the end of the six-yearagreement. The owners will learn the players will not accept a system thatrequires them to give up a percentage of the salary to which they agreed. Endof discussion.This is our careers. This is stuff we need to look at asvery important, Capitals forward Matt Hendricks said. You never know howthings go. The last lockout was an entire season. I really hope that wonthappen, but if it did Id have to find a place to play somewhere because totake a year off would be unacceptable to me.The NHLs biggest concession came when Bettman agreed tokeep the definition of hockey-related revenues the same as it was in theprevious agreement. Now, at least, the two sides are comparing apples toapples.But their proposals are still miles apart.Bettman wants an immediate 10 percent rollback on salariesin the form of a lower salary cap, which would fall from 70.2 million to 63million in Wednesdays proposal.The players want no part of a rollback, instead proposing theywould see fixed increases in player salaries of 2 percent in the first year, 4percent in the second year and 6 percent in the third year. Those raises wouldbe unrelated to hockey-related revenue. Essentially, the players have devised a proposal in whichthe NHLs richest teams would need to help support the leagues poorest teamsin the form of luxury taxes and the ability to trade salary cap space.The NHL has rejected that concept. They have their feelings and we have our feelings,Hendricks said, and the job is to come to an agreement on things so we can getback to doing what we love to do and thats play hockey.On 11:59 p.m. Saturday night it seems all but certain that opportunitywill be stalled by a lockout, cancelling NHL rookie camps and threatening theSept. 21 start of training camp.After Saturday the next real deadline for the NHL and itsplayers will come on Oct. 11, the scheduled start of the regular season. By then, perhaps, the two sides will have found a way tospeak the same language.
There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.
"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."
Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?
"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."
The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.
Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.
Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.
Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43.
Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.
"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."
In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.
The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.
In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.
"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."
Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.
The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.
"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."
Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.
Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.
Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.
Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.
Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.