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Next up for NHL: Saving the Winter Classic

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Next up for NHL: Saving the Winter Classic

Barring the unlikely event that Gary Bettman and Don Fehr have arranged a secret meeting in a secluded cabin off Lake Muskoka, any hope of a full NHL season is likely to evaporate today without so much as a phone call.
   
Today is the deadline set by Bettman nine days ago when he proposed a 50-50 split in league revenue in an attempt to salvage an 82-game season beginning Nov. 2.

The players saw Bettman’s offer has a significant step forward in negotiations, but when their counter proposal two days later was only a modification of their previous proposals, talks abruptly broke off.

Since then, Bettman has made it clear the league’s 50-50 offer was its “best” proposal, and on Wednesday he indicated future offers to the players could be less attractive because of the loss of income from cancelled games.

So with today’s deadline about to pass, when is the next mile marker facing the NHL as it shifts its focus to salvaging an abbreviated season?

Most agree it’s Nov. 20. That’s the date many believe an agreement between the players and owners needs to be in place to salvage the 2013 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

A record crowd of more 110,000 is expected in Ann Arbor for the Jan. 1 game between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. The game is preceded by HBO’s month-long television series "24/7," which requires at least a month of game action for taping.

“It takes a lot of time, and it takes the commitment of a lot of money in order to put on the Winter Classic, and we’re going to have to go back and revisit,” Bettman said last week.

“But my understanding is at some point in the not too distant future we will have to commit many millions of dollars if we’re going to play the Winter Classic on January 1. Obviously, under these circumstances and all the uncertainty, we’re not going to commit many millions of dollars if we don’t think we’re going to have a deal.

“And so the Winter Classic timeframe, in terms of making that decision, is probably rapidly approaching. That’s a discussion I’m going to have to have internally to see when those commitments actually have to be made.”

While the Winter Classic is the signature event, there are dozens of events scheduled in Ann Arbor during the final two weeks of December. The Winter Festival is expected to draw big crowds to the Great Lakes Invitational featuring Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan and Michigan Tech, along with an Ontario Hockey League doubleheader and a game between the Wings' and Leafs' minor-league affiliates.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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