Will NHL players accept owners' offer?


Will NHL players accept owners' offer?

Let’s start with the truth.

NHL players will not come running back from the four corners of the hockey world to accept the 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue that was proposed by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday in Toronto.

That said, there is a much better chance today of the NHL salvaging a season than at any point in the past four months. Bettman’s 50-50 split across the board is far better than the 47 percent proposed by the owners on Sept. 12.

But it’s still a far cry from the 57 percent taken in by the players under the expired CBA and would require players to have significant money placed in escrow accounts.

Bettman said his proposal would not require immediate salary rollbacks. While that may be true, it likely would require players to place at least 6.5 percent of their salaries in escrow accounts, much like they have in previous years.

That is something many players, including Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, have said they would not accept. Ovechkin has nine years and $88 million remaining on his contract with the Caps and is reportedly making $6 million playing in Russia this season.

Ovechkin has repeatedly stated he would consider staying in the KHL the entire season if it meant accepting a significant paycut to play in the NHL. Other players, including former Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar, have echoed those sentiments.

So, while Tuesday’s proposal by the owners was a significant one, it only serves as a kickstart to more meaningful negotiations that are sure to heat up in the next eight to nine days.

It is important to emphasize that while Bettman called Tuesday’s proposal the NHL’s “best offer,” he did not call it the league’s “final offer.” It’s also worth noting that Don Fehr called the proposal “an excellent starting point” that he hopes will lead to more significant negotiations.

Here are a few more things to know about the league’s proposal: it is for at least six years; it carries a five-year maximum length on player contracts; it moves the age for unrestricted free agency from seven years of NHL service or 27 years of age to eight years of service or 28 years of age; and it keeps entry-level contracts at three years.

The players are likely to agree on all of those points. But their next move might be going with a less dramatic decline in revenue sharing – say beginning at 54 percent and ending at a 50-50 split in Year 5 or 6.

Ward: Retirement of O'Ree's number a 'no-brainer'


Ward: Retirement of O'Ree's number a 'no-brainer'

It is not Joel Ward’s nature to use his first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Final as a civil rights platform. That’s not who he is or what he’s about.

But when ESPN.com’s Joe McDonald asked Ward over the weekend if he believes the NHL should consider retiring Willie O’Ree’s No. 22 in recognition of him breaking the league’s color barrier on Jan. 18, 1958, he was quick to jump on board with the idea.

"That's something to definitely talk about for sure,” said Ward, who upon becoming a member of the Capitals in 2011 requested to wear No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. “It would be great if they did. … With the amount of respect Willie has around the league, it would definitely be something special if that did come up."

Currently, there is only one jersey number retired by every team in the NHL – Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99.


O’Ree, 80, played in only 45 NHL games with the Boston Bruins (two games in 1957-58 and 43 games in 1960-61), but he paved the way for other black players to follow.  

“It's a no-brainer,” said Ward, whose San Jose Sharks will face the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Without Willie, it would be tough for me to be sitting here today.”

O’Ree has been an ambassador for the NHL for several years. In April he visited Washington to attend a private screening of the movie “Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future,” and spoke passionately about the racism he faced as a young player who hid from the Bruins organization that he was blind in one eye.

“I was faced with racism, bigotry, prejudice and ignorance and discrimination,” O’Ree recently told a group of students at the Anti-Defamation League Youth Congress in Boston.

“Every time I went to the ice I was faced with racial slurs because of my color and my brother taught me names will never hurt you unless you let them. I had black cats thrown on the ice and told to go back to the cotton fields and pick cotton.”

Ward, 35, faced a different kind of racism after he scored the series-clinching goal for the Capitals in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. In the hours after netting the overtime goal in Game 7 in Boston, Bruins fans tweeted racist remarks about Ward, whose parents were born in Barbados and raised their three sons in the Scarborough neighborhood of Toronto.

“I don't let it bother me at all,” Ward told reporters after the incident in Boston. “It's a few people that just made a couple of terrible comments, and what can you do? I know what I signed up for. I'm a black guy playing a predominantly white sport. It's just going to come with the territory. I'd feel naive or foolish to think that it doesn't exist. It's a battle I think will always be there.”

While he was a member of the Capitals, Ward was invited to throw out the first pitch on Jackie Robinson Day at Nats Park, telling the Washington Times about his deep appreciation and respect for what Robinson faced nearly 70 years ago.

“I always question myself whether would I ever be strong enough to go through something like that,” Ward said. “And the fact that he excelled hitting over .300 and knowing that he could be shot at any minute, every time he stepped up to the plate. He just seemed to tune that out in some miraculous way, so for somebody to pave the way like that and open doors for guys like myself is unbelievable."

It took Major League Baseball 50 years after Robinson’s first game to retire his No. 42 forever.  It’s been more than 58 years since O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier and Ward believes it’s time to at least start a similar discussion to honor the man whom many describe as the Jackie Robinson of hockey.


Stanley Cup Finals simulated on NHL 94 and Caps fans will like the results


Stanley Cup Finals simulated on NHL 94 and Caps fans will like the results

Whenever a big sports event is about to take place, people go to great lengths to try to figure out what will happen. Some people use animals to make predictions (remember Paul the octopus?) while others use simulations.

What better way to simulate this year's Stanley Cup Final than with the classic video game NHL 94?

The description of the video says the simulation was done with an updated version of NHL 94 from NHL94.com.

Las Vegas may have the Penguins as the favorites in the series, but clearly the wise guys did not do their research. This foolproof simulation has the Sharks sweeping the Penguins in four games. Sidney Crosby also manages just one goal and one assist in the series.

Call your bookie, you've got the inside scoop on what's going to happen in the Finals.


2015-16 Season in Review: Nicklas Backstrom


2015-16 Season in Review: Nicklas Backstrom

With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.

No. 19 Nicklas Backstrom

Age: 28 (turns 29 on Nov. 23)

Games: 75

Goals: 20

Assists: 50

Points: 70

Plus-minus: Plus-17

Penalty minutes: 36

Time on ice: 19:10

Playoff stats: 12 games, 2 goals, 9 assists, plus-3, 8 PIM, 20:02

Contract status: Four years remaining on 10-year, $67 million contract ($6.7 million cap hit, $7 million salary)


Following the Capitals’ fifth second-round playoff exit in nine years, Capitals alternate captain Nicklas Backstrom did something very few professional athletes are brave enough to do.

At the very end of his post-season interview with reporters, Backstrom was asked if there is anything he would like to say to Capitals fans who have waited 42 years for their team to win its first Stanley Cup.

“I love them,” Backstrom said. “I love Washington fans. They’re absolutely the best fans in the world. Even if we disappoint them, hopefully they have faith in us. I know we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna do it one day. I promise them.”

Once described as “the heartbeat of our team” by goaltender Braden Holtby, Backstrom was quietly one of the most consistently productive players for the Capitals this season, noteworthy because he underwent reconstructive hip surgery last summer.

During his nine-year NHL career in Washington, Backstrom has averaged .98 points per game in the regular season and .75 points per game in the playoffs.

This season he averaged .93 points and .92 points, respectively. He also hit the 20-goal mark for just the third time in his career and for the first time since 2010 when he set career highs with 33 goals and 101 points. Backstrom credited his decision to undergo offseason hip surgery and the dedication of the Capitals’ training staff to allow him to play in all but seven games this season (he missed the first three games of the season and four of the final five).

“I was feeling good all year,” he said. “Obviously, when you do a big surgery like that, you’re going to feel it a little bit. But it’s all about treatment and how you handle it. I feel like all the trainers have been doing a good job with that, helping me.”

Because of his consistency, and perhaps the campaigning of head coach Barry Trotz, Backstrom was voted into his first NHL All-Star Game. But that wasn’t enough to soothe the open wounds of another premature playoff exit.

“Really disappointing, to be honest with you,” Backstrom said when asked to evaluate his own play. “Honestly, I don’t care about anything else than going further in the playoffs. It’s disappointing. It doesn’t matter I went to Nashville. Yeah, it was fun, but I don’t really care about that right now.”

In the playoffs, Backstrom was quietly dominant, recording two goals and five assists in six games against the Flyers and no goals and four assists in six games against the Penguins – all while holding Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux to one assist (minus-2) in six games, and Sidney Crosby to two assists (minus-3) in six games.

“Every time you go against a player like (Crosby), I feel like you have to be good,” Backstrom said. “He’s a talented guy. I think if you look at it now, what did he have, two assists? If you look at it afterwards, you think when he has two assists, you feel like, ‘Yeah, we should’ve won that.’ But there was a lot of other guys on their team that really stepped up and had a big series.”

Guys like Nick Bonino (2 goals, 3 assists), Carl Hagelin (3 goals, 4 assists) and Phil Kessel (2 goals, 4 assists).

Backstrom has been through four head coaches and five No. 1 goalies in his nine seasons with the Caps but has failed to see the Capitals play in a conference final.

“Obviously, it’s getting old,” Backstrom said. “The same meetings every year.”

With four years remaining on a contract that continues to escalate in value – he’ll earn $7 million next season, $7.5 million in each of the following two seasons, and $8 million in 2019-20, Backstrom was asked if he’s ever wondered how long the Caps will remain patient with him and Alex Ovechkin in their quest to win a championship.

“Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “It’s out of our hands, I think. Even if we have long contracts, it’s up to the GM and the owners to evaluate everybody and how they want to go forward here, which players they want to have here and stuff like that. But, yeah, it absolutely crosses your mind. But at the same time, you’re hockey players. We want to move forward, and we want to succeed and we want to compete and that’s what drives us.”

On the ice, it will be interesting to see which direction the Capitals will go with Backstrom next season. Evgeny Kuznetsov (77 points) became the first player not named Ovechkin or Backstrom to lead the Caps in scoring during the Ovechkin era and he could begin next season as the Caps’ top-line center.

How that potential switch could affect Backstrom’s ice time and offensive totals next season remains to be seen, but Backstrom seems convinced that with 17 players under contract for next season, the Capitals have the personnel to make another run at a championship.

“If you compare this to my first couple years, I feel like even if we lost, it’s a special group,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got something special, and we just need to execute. We need to win games when we need to. At the end of the day it’s all about winning. We need to get over the hump that we can’t get over. That’s what I feel like. Every time when it ends, it’s so quick and so frustrating.

“I feel like we need to be better as a group when it counts, everybody. It’s just not one or two players, it’s everybody. We need to be better.”