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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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Tom Wilson gets a goal and a penalty on the same play

Tom Wilson gets a goal and a penalty on the same play

It took just one period into his first game of the season for Tom Wilson to score a goal. Unfortunately, it also took him just one period to get a reputation penalty called against him.

And somehow, they both happened on the same play.

In a very “this could only happen to Wilson” moment, Wilson crashed the net in the first period of Tuesday's game against the Minnesota Wild looking for a tip-in on a pass from Dmitry Orlov. He is engaged by defenseman Ryan Suter from behind on the play. Wilson gets his stick on the ice to tip it in for the goal but is pushed into goalie Devan Dubnyk which knocks the netminder’s helmet off and left him down on the ice for several moments.

So now, if you’re the referee, you have a call to make. Either Wilson was pushed into Dubynk meaning the play is legal and the goal counts or Wilson is guilty of crashing into the goalie and guilty of goalie interference which would negate the goal and possibly give Wilson a two-minute minor.

The referees went with Option C: All of the above.

The goal counted, but Wilson was also given a two-minute minor for goalie interference.

Tuesday’s game is Wilson’s first of the season after a neutral arbitrator reduced his 20-game suspension. The image of Wilson celebrating a goal over a sprawled goalie will likely cause some grumbling amongst the Wilson detractors.

It should be noted, however, that Minnesota did not challenge the goal for goalie interference and the goal was allowed to stand. You have to think that if Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau thought he had a chance of getting that goal overturned, he would have taken it.

Instead, Wilson was given the goal...and somehow the penalty for goalie interference on the same play.

Only Tom Wilson.

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Capitals winger Tom Wilson returns from suspension, but has he learned his lesson?

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USA Today Sports

Capitals winger Tom Wilson returns from suspension, but has he learned his lesson?

WASHINGTON —Tom Wilson had his 20-game suspension reduced just in time by a neutral arbitrator Tuesday and the Capitals will welcome back their rugged winger tonight against the Minnesota Wild. 

Better late than never after Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season. The arbitrator, Shyam Das, actually knocked the suspension down to 14 games from the original 20, but there’s no time machine to put Wilson back in the lineup for home losses to Columbus and Arizona.

There’s also no time machine for Wilson to go back and avoid illegally checking St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in the head. That play, during a Sept. 27 preseason game, was the final straw for the NHL, which had suspended Wilson three times in the previous 13 months. 

It was a bad hit at a pointless time in a meaningless exhibition game and gets right to the heart of the matter: Can Tom Wilson change how he plays? And if he does, is he worth what the Capitals invested in him this summer?

“The hitting aspect of the game is definitely changing a little bit, and I’ve got to be smart out there, and I’ve got to play within the rules,” Wilson said on Oct. 14. “And at the end of the day, no one wants to be in the situation that I’m in right now. I’ve got to change something because obviously it’s not good to be out and not helping your team.”

Washington signed Wilson to a six-year, $31 million contract in July. He is a unique player in the NHL, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wrecking ball who can put the fear of God into opposing players, but isn’t just another goon. He can play. He had 14 goals and 21 assists last year, doubling his previous best, while playing on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Capitals believe Wilson has more in him.

"No, I don't think he has to change. I've been in this situation, too,” Ovechkin said. “To be honest with you, I don't want to talk about his game because he knows what he has to do. I think it's just a situation where you let it go…He just have to play the same way he played and don't listen to no one because it's your choice how you playing."

There is also an elephant in the room. Ovechkin is only under contract two more years after this one. Nicklas Backstrom is a free agent after next season. Both players will be well into their 30s when free agency hits. The Capitals would love them to retire here, but no one can say what will happen. Wilson is a potential captain, a gregarious, vocal presence who is under contract through 2024. He is young enough to lead the post-Ovechkin team the organization builds. 

But all of that investment goes to waste if Wilson can’t stay on the ice and that is the immediate problem. Because the next bad decision, the next time Wilson crosses the line the punishment only goes higher. Remember when he broke Zach Aston-Reese’s jaw in the second round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins last May? If that happens again Wilson will be staring at a 25-to-30 game suspension. That’s almost one-third of an entire season. 

Wilson’s teammates have been supportive. Ovechkin’s comments indicate that. T.J. Oshie has been outspoken on Wilson’s play since the playoffs last year when he had multiple close calls, including the Aston-Reese hit that earned him a three-game suspension during the Pittsburgh series. Wilson hit Columbus forward Alex Wennberg in the first round, but escaped supplemental discipline.    

“When I'm going to hit someone, I'm going to hit him as hard as I can. But that doesn't mean I want to hurt him,” Oshie told NBC Sports Washington on Oct. 2. “It means I want to change the way the game's going. I want to separate him from the puck. I want him to fall down so for a brief moment, we have five guys going and they've got four. Tom does it the same way. He gets penalized, I think, for his size and strength.”

There is a fine line, however, between being supportive and enabling a player and Washington’s players, coaches and executives at least walk that line with their public comments. The organization is still upset at the suspension for the Aston-Reese hit. Wilson himself, while acknowledging all the work he did last year to meet with NHL officials and understand what he can and can’t do, said after that hit that ex-players and friends around the league were texting him not to change a thing. 

Those mixed messages could prove troublesome because the NHL itself is unambiguous. Wilson is out of chances and no matter how the Caps feel about that interpretation, they need him to heed the warnings.     

“There are certain ways they are calling things,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “You need to be aware of how they’re making their calls on suspensions. Tom is a big, strong guy who skates really well. There is a lot of force behind his contact. He needs to be aware of how they’re determining what’s legal and what’s illegal from the league’s standpoint.” 

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