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Players must bend if they want to play

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Players must bend if they want to play

For the past two months NHLPA executive director Don Fehr has promised the league’s 700-plus players that he would fight for their right to be paid every penny of their existing contracts.

Every step of the way the league’s owners have resisted and as a result the NHL and its players remain in a bitter labor dispute that has cost both sides nearly $1 billion in salary and revenue.

Now the players’ union is faced with a perplexing dilemma. Do players finally make concessions and agree to have a percentage of their salaries placed in escrow?

Or, do they stand firm and run the risk of losing the entire season?

That’s what Fehr and his negotiating committee must decide between now and Wednesday, when the NHL is expecting a new and comprehensive proposal from the players that addresses the league’s immediate concerns.

Since the start of this lockout, Fehr has galvanized the players by insisting that owners honor their existing contracts. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has been one of the most vocal supporters in that fight.

“Our head, Donald Fehr, is very well acquainted with our terms and conditions,” Ovechkin said via Russia Beyond the Headlines. “Nobody wants a pay cut or a lower status. Everything in that respect is up to Fehr. We have full confidence in him, but there could be some twists and turns ahead.”

The league certainly hopes so. If nothing else, commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly have stood firm on placing player salaries in escrow.

“We’ve never heard a full proposal from them,” Daly told reporters after Monday’s 90-minute meeting.

“We’ve heard their proposal on economics. They’re still suggesting that they’re moving in our direction on economics. Until we know exactly where they stand on economics ... we think it’s all tied together.

“We’d like to hear it all together.”

From the start, Fehr has demanded a 1.75 percent increase on the $1.883 billion in salaries the players took in last year. The NHL wants that figure reduced to $1.73 in Year One, then increased to $1.82 billion in Year Two, $1.91 billion in Year Three, $2 billion in Year Four and $2.1 billion in Year Five.

In exchange the NHL also wants an immediate 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue, which reached a record $3.3 billion last season but likely will be about half that if the NHL can salvage half a season this year.

If the players come up with a proposal that addresses the owners’ need for a bigger share of revenue, the owners almost certainly will need to make concessions on contract rights.

The NHL would like to see entry-level contracts reduced to two years, unrestricted free agency pushed back to age 28 or eight years of service and all contracts capped at five years.

The owners would probably agree to return to three-year entry-level contracts and push free agency back to 27 years or seven years of service. But it may not – and should not – budge from five-year contract limits, which is a big reason the league is in the shape it finds itself.

If the players are able to craft a comprehensive counter-proposal that addresses some of the owners’ concerns there could be enough traction to have a deal in place by the end of November and a season beginning in mid-December.

If not, the league likely would cancel all games through Dec. 15 and possibly use that same date as a deadline for salvaging any kind of season.

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Capitals vs. Pengiuns Preview: Three keys to how this year could be different for the Caps

Capitals vs. Pengiuns Preview: Three keys to how this year could be different for the Caps

The Washington Capitals enter the 2018 NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Second Round in a similar position. A Metro division championship in hand and a seven-game series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But while this year appears the same, the Caps are hoping for a different outcome. Will they finally be able to beat their arch rival and reach the conference final?

Here are three keys that will determine if this year will be different for the Caps.

Capitals vs. Penguins Preview:

Key to Victory No. 1: Discipline:

In the Capitals' two victories over the Penguins this season, Washington did not give up a power play goal. No team had a better power play unit during the regular season than the Penguins and we already saw how much foolish penalties hurt the Caps in the first round. Washington took 24 penalties in six games against the Blue Jackets and that is far too many.

They cannot win that way against the Penguins.

The problem is that in the second round with a heated rival, tempers can flare a bit. Just look at the last time these two teams played when Malkin was shooting Oshie's stick off the ice and tried to fight Kuznetsov for speaking Russian to him. Still, the Caps are going to have to keep their emotions in check.

Key to Victory No. 2:  Getting the goaltending advantage: 

The scoring depth of Pittsburgh is unmatched. The fact that a team can have Crosby, Malkin and Kessel all on the same team in the salary cap era is mind-boggling. Oh, and by the way, Jake Guentzel scores every time he touches the puck in the playoffs. Washington cannot win this series if they do not get better goaltending than Pittsburgh.

The good news is that Murray was not lights out in the first round. Yes, he had two shutouts, but there were also three games in which he let in at least four goals. A .911 save percentage is not where the Penguins really need him to be. The bad news is that while Holtby is statistically one of the best playoff netminders in NHL history, he struggles against Pittsburgh. In last year's series, Holtby managed only a .887 save percentage and 2.57 GAA.

One thing to keep in mind, on April 1 Grubauer started a critical game in Pittsburgh and was phenomenal. Could Trotz possibly think of going back to Grubauer if Holtby struggles against the Penguins?

Keys to Victory No. 3: The Mind Games

 Let's face it, there is a mental aspect to the Capitals' postseason struggles. When it comes to beating Pittsburgh or getting past the second round, this has become a mental hurdle. They have to come into this series with confidence they can win and maintain that confidence throughout, regardless of whether they get down in a game or in the series, regardless of whether there is a bad penalty call, regardless of whether Murray stands on his head again, regardless of any of the struggles they may face, they have to stay mentally confident.

When the Caps went down 0-2 against Columbus, Ovechkin said that the series would return to Washington tied at 2. The way he said it, it wasn't a guarantee or some massive proclamation, it was a statement of fact. Both he and the rest of the team believed they were going to come back and win the series. They need that level of confidence against Pittsburgh as well.

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Capitals are shaking up the coaching staff in Hershey

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The Hershey Bears

Capitals are shaking up the coaching staff in Hershey

The contracts of Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann and Bears assistant coach Ryan Murphy will not be renewed for next season, the Capitals announced Wednesday. Hershey finished in last place in the Atlantic Division and did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“Troy is a dedicated and hard-working coach and we appreciate all he has done for the Hershey Bears,” said Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. “At this point, we feel a fresh approach and a change in leadership is needed in order for us to continue to develop our young players towards the next level and for success at the AHL level. We also want to thank Ryan for his contributions to the Hershey Bears and wish him all the best.”

Just two seasons ago, the Bears under Mann were playing the Calder Cup Finals where they lost in four games to the Lake Erie Monsters. Mann served as an assistant coach for Hershey from 2009-2013 and was hired as the head coach in 2014. He led the Bears to a record of 162-102-22-18 during his tenure, good for sixth all-time among Hershey coaches in wins.

Mann coached several current Capitals players in Hershey including Travis Boyd, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Philipp Grubauer, among others. Hershey also currently boasts several of the Caps' biggest prospects such as Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs, Riley Barber and Jonas Siegenthaler.

Murphy was with the Bears for all four years of Mann's tenure. He started in video development in Mann's first season and was promoted to assistant coach the following year.

“We’d like to thank Troy Mann and Ryan Murphy for their contributions to the Hershey Bears organization,” said Hershey vice president of hockey operations, Bryan Helmer. “While we are looking to move our hockey club forward, today is certainly an emotional day. I had the pleasure of working with both Troy and Ryan behind the bench for two seasons, and consider them to be great people. We wish both all the best in future endeavors.”

Coaching in the AHL is a tough job as coaches are expected to bring the team success while also developing their NHL club's prospects. There are times when the two goals do not necessarily line up which can make it a difficult balance.

Considering how important it is to develop talent from within, AHL coaches are very significant parts of an organization. Getting the right guy in charge of Hershey won't just boost the AHL team, but will help the Caps down the line with developed players.

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