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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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Losing Nicklas Backstrom would be 'huge trouble' for the Capitals

Losing Nicklas Backstrom would be 'huge trouble' for the Capitals

Nicklas Backstrom only played seven minutes in the Caps' frustrating Game 1 loss to the Islanders last night after a late hit by Anders Lee sidelined him for the second and third periods. 

The Caps' weren't happy about it, fans certainly weren't happy about it, and now the focus shifts to the 32-year-old center who's struggled with concussions in the past. And as the team's radio voice, John Walton explained on the Sports Junkies Thursday, losing Backstrom for more time than they already have would be troubling news.

"If Nicky is out for any length of time, that's huge trouble," Walton said. "The good news is they're gonna get Lars Eller back in Game 2 and he may have to -- and he has in the past -- been the second-line center. But if you lose Nick Backstrom you're obviously losing something big."

Backstrom's value to the Capitals' offense can't be understated. He's a terrific passer, has a unique chemistry with Alex Ovechkin and facilitates the offense like a point guard does in basketball. 

The Islanders are a physical, defensive-minded team, but Walton thinks Lee's hit on Backstrom was a cheap one.

RELATED: HOLTBY TAKES BLAME FOR CRUCIAL MISTAKES IN GAME 1

"I don't know if it crossed into suspension territory, [Lee] is not going to be from what we're told," Walton said. "But it was cheap, it was late and it was a lot of things that came out of the Caps' dressing room."

Now we wait to hear Backstrom's status ahead of a crucial Game 2, and since the Eastern Conference playoffs are played in the same place and most of the media is covering the games from home, it's harder to get concrete updates in a timely manner. 

"One of the problems that we're fighting is that when you're [broadcasting] in Washington and the games are in Toronto you don't have the same access to information that we usually have," he said. "We can only go on what we saw."

Head coach Todd Reirden is expected to talk on Backstrom's availability Thursday after practice, so with any luck, the Caps will have Backstrom back for Game 2 on Friday night. If they don't have him, though it's going to be difficult for Washington to avoid the dreaded 2-0 series hole. 

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Braden Holtby takes the blame for critical Game 1 mistakes

Braden Holtby takes the blame for critical Game 1 mistakes

Braden Holtby was the Capitals' best player in the round robin. On Wednesday, he committed two major mistakes that proved to be the difference in Washington's 4-2 Game 1 loss to the New York Islanders and he did not shy away from responsibility afterward.

Late in the second period, the Caps led 2-0 and looked to be in complete control. Then Jordan Eberle took a pass from Mathew Barzal, cut from left to right and fired what should have been a harmless wrister from the top of the faceoff circle. Instead of being an easy save, however, Holtby's body drifted to his right and the puck somehow avoided his raised glove and hit the back of the net.

"First goal obviously can't go in," Holtby said. "I haven't seen a replay of it yet. Can't really tell you too much. I just know it's a bad goal in a bad part of the game. That's on me. That changes the momentum of the game right there."

In the third period, after the Islanders rallied to tie the game at 2, Holtby took a cleared puck on a Caps' power play and tried to casually hand it off to Alex Ovechkin without realizing Brock Nelson charging in after them. Nelson would win possession and pass it off to Josh Bailey who scored the game-winning short-handed goal.

"Shorthanded goal was just more of a miscommunication," Holtby said. "I think I was kind of fighting for it in the sealing and I didn't realize that there wasn't much time there. I should've just held onto it. I thought we had more time. That one's something that we just - you don't want it to happen."

RELATED: OBSERVATIONS FROM GAME 1 OF CAPS VS. ISLANDERS

That's two major mistakes with one proving to be the turning point of the game while the other was the game-winning goal.

While Holtby was quick to put the blame on himself, head coach Todd Reirden said the loss was a collective effort.

“Like the rest of our players, I thought we had a good first half of the game and we needed more from everybody in the second half, not just [Holtby]," Reirden said,

It is interesting to wonder what would happen in Game 2 if Ilya Samsonov was healthy and with the team. Holtby was the team's No. 1 all season, but Samsonov played frequently and, for much of the season, outplayed Holtby. Would Reirden make the goalie change for Game 2 if that option was available?

With Samsonov injured, however, this question is purely hypothetical. With the team's two goalie choices behind Holtby being Vitek Vanecek and Pheonix Copley, a goalie switch for Game 2 is not even worth considering. The only solution is for Holtby and the team to forget about Game 1 and remember that it's a long series and Washington is by no means out of it.

"I think we have an experienced enough group to know that one game doesn't make a series," Hotlby said. "It's how you respond to it, it's how you do the little things, learn from the game that you just played and find ways to play them better. I think to push forward from a game like today is one that I want to make sure that I have my best game come next game and as a group, I think individually if we all expect more of ourselves then that's how we've won in the past and that's how we're gonna do it again. First game in the series doesn't say much about how it's gonna go. It's how you respond from here on out."

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