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As 2018 draws to a close, let’s celebrate the greatest year of Alex Ovechkin’s career

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As 2018 draws to a close, let’s celebrate the greatest year of Alex Ovechkin’s career

“You can’t score every night,” Alex Ovechkin said Dec. 15 after a lackluster showing against the Buffalo Sabres in which he scored only one measly goal, his seventh in three games.

Ovechkin may think he can’t score every night, but he certainly comes close. His one goal against Buffalo on Dec. 15 only felt like a disappointment because he had scored a hat trick in each of the prior two games. As the NHL returns from the Christmas break on Thursday, Ovechkin sits first in the league in goals with 29, three more than Jeff Skinner who sits in second despite playing two more games.

What Ovechkin is doing this season is even more impressive given that he is 33 years old, when most players suffer a precipitous decline in production after seeing their prime years come and go.

“It's incredible,” T.J. Oshie said. “I can't explain it … but he's a special talent. He feels like to me a once in a lifetime goal scorer. It’s a pleasure being able to watch, being able to be a part of it and play on his line.”

“Such a threat, especially when he’s confident and he’s shooting the puck where he wants,” Brett Connolly said. “[Ovechkin is] a bull out there, it seems like he keeps getting better and better every year. Such a hungriness to score goals. He’s having a hell of a season and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down.”

Ovechkin’s continued scoring dominance is an appropriate way to cap off what has been the most remarkable year of the Great 8’s career.

The year 2018 saw Ovechkin score his 600th career goal, claim his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer (49 goals), finally defeat rival Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP and, of course, hoist the Stanley Cup.

And, oh yeah, he also had a baby.

How do you follow up a season like that? By defying expectations and Father Time with 29 goals in 35 games – putting him on pace for for a 68-goal season – and setting a new career-high with a 14-game point streak at the age of 33.

“The age he's at to still continue to not only want to get better, but to be able to,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “After just the way he's played the game with such a physical presence and the energy he has and the size he is, it's not easy. … I know some other years statistically have been better, but for me it's his best two-way hockey that he's played.” 

In his career, Ovechkin has established himself as one of the best to ever play the game. But in 2018, Ovechkin is putting the final touches on what has been the greatest year of his career.

“At that level that he got himself to last year right at the start of the year … he’s really just kept building off that,” Oshie said. “It’s fun being on this side of that when Big O is going like that. It’s a privilege to play with him out there.”

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NHL Players' Association Executive Board approves return-to-ice plan as league takes one step closer to return

NHL Players' Association Executive Board approves return-to-ice plan as league takes one step closer to return

The NHL took another step toward a return to the ice late on Tuesday night when the Executive Board of the NHL Players’ Association approved the tentative agreement between the league and its union. 

There are still two steps to go. The NHLPA Executive Board now opens up the memorandum of understanding to its full membership. Every player will have a vote. The NHL Board of Governors also must approve the MOU. 

If that happens? We will have hockey soon – barring the coronavirus pandemic wrecking things as it has for months. 

Players will report to their team facilities by July 13 for training camps as the league attempts to execute its return-to-play plan. Twenty-four teams will travel to the two hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton, on July 26 for round-robin games, qualifying playoff games and the full 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs. 

There is no set date for when owners must approve the memorandum, but players are expected to be finished their vote by next Monday in time for training camps.

RELATED: NHL, NHLPA ADD 4 YEARS TO CURRENT CBA  

The Capitals are set to play the Bruins, Flyers and Lightning in a round-robin tournament for seeding in the Eastern Conference. The defending champion Blues, Oilers, Avalanche and Golden Knights will do the same in the Western Conference. 

The 16 other teams that will continue play have a best-of-five preliminary round to whittle the Stanley Cup field to its usual 16 teams playing best-of-seven series. 
The agreement also extends the current Collective Bargaining Agreement until at least 2026, buying labor peace the NHL has rarely found with its players. It also opens the door to Winter Olympics participation in Beijing (2022) and Milan (2026). 

Now, we wait for the next two crucial votes and hockey will be in sight. 

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NHL, NHL Players' Association agree to tentative return-to-play plan, CBA extension

NHL, NHL Players' Association agree to tentative return-to-play plan, CBA extension

The NHL and NHL Players' Association came to a tentative agreement on a Return to Play plan and added four years to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement on Monday evening.

Players will report to their team facilities by July 13 for training camps as the league attempts to return from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Twenty four teams will travel to the two hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton, on July 26 for round-robin games, qualifying playoff games and the full 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs. 

The memorandum of understanding still must be approved by the full NHL Board of Governors and the NHLPA’s Executive Board and full membership. That process will take place this week with no formal date set for ratification by all parties. 

That brings the NHL a huge step closer to its long-awaited return to the ice. There are still hurdles between now and then, however.

MLS was set to begin play this week on its own before FC Dallas had to withdraw from the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando when 10 players and a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. The NHL shut down on March 12 and entered the day with 35 players testing positive for the novel coronavirus since June 8.

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There is still a long way to go before the Capitals arrive in Toronto to play round-robin games against the Flyers, Bruins and Lightning. Those games and the qualifying round for now are set to start Aug. 1. 

That’s the big news for this season. There was more news for the future, though. The NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement was set to expire after the 2021-22 season. 

Now, it will continue through 2025-26. NHL players will return to the Winter Olympics in 2022 (Beijing) and 2026 (Milan) - as long as the league and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can agree on terms. That’s always a giant question mark, but at least there’s hope there. Players were furious at having to miss the 2018 games in South Korea after the IIHF and the NHL failed to agree. 

It could still be a week before NHL players can approve the deal and the coronavirus has proved for months it can wreck anything at any time. But for now, hockey is on track to return next month. 

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