Saturday, July 31, 2010

Arbitrator chosen in Kovalchuk hearing, case to be decided next week

Well maybe now we're finally nearing a resolution of the Ilya Kovalchuk saga, as word came down late last night that an arbitrator had been agreed to and the case would be heard early next week with a decision to come 48 hours after the case's conclusion as per CBA rules. So by the end of next week there should finally be some closure to this madness. Unless of course the arbitrator unexpectedly rules in favor of the league, in which case nobody really knows what the next step will be though from all reports it seems unlikely the league would seek to extract further punishment against the Devils in the case of a favorable (for them) ruling.

Of course if the arbitrator rules in favor of the Devils, the star winger will finally be signed, sealed and delivered officially by the end of next week and GM Lou Lamoriello can get on with the business of restructuring his team to fit in Kovalchuk under the cap, since even with the contreversial cap-friendly contract the Devils would be approximately $2 million over, give or take a little depending on the final composition of the roster come October. Also an unrelated factor to the Devils' cap issues is a second buyout period that ends Sunday and under one of the more obscure CBA rules only exists because Mark Fraser filed for arbitration.

I can't see Lou buying anyone else out though, after giving Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters buyouts of their contracts, combining for a dead $1 million in cap space. It would be a way to get rid of someone who has a no-trade - say Colin White - but you hate to use the buyout on someone you could possibly get value for back in a trade, plus it won't help with our biggest cap headache in Brian Rolston since he was over 35 when he signed his contract and the cap hit remains no matter what.

Getting back to the Kovalchuk case, various sources including Sportsnet believe the arbitrator will be Richard Bloch, who has ruled on NHL salary disputes in the past and also on the Terrell Owens contract after a team suspension a few years back by the Eagles of the NFL. If nothing else he has experience with sports rulings and is clearly qualified. Trying to guess how he will rule based on his history is purely academic, especially since this case is rather unprecedented under this current CBA in the NHL and as much as we like to play armchair lawyer we really don't know all the facts and evidence that will be presented though nothing's come up publicly or by anyone's viewing of the CBA that suggests the Devils did violate any clause of the document and any ruling against the team would likely be based on circumstance and the 'spirit' of the rule.

Either way it's good that the NHL and NHLPA have worked towards a speedier resolution than I feared when this process started. Now that the Kovalchuk saga is going into its fifth week and second month it'll be nice to get on with other business soon since it's likely that Kovalchuk's contract dispute is holding up not only Devils-related business but that of other teams by extension as well. Among others, clearly someone like a Mike Mottau is probably waiting around to see what happens with the team, since if the Devils do trade a defenseman to get under the cap re-signing him cheaply becomes an alternative. Not to mention it's holding up ticket sales to fans who would be more likely to buy Devils tickets with Kovalchuk in the fold.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Devils re-sign Fraser

The Devils avoided arbitration, re-signing defenseman Mark Fraser for one year, $500,000. The former '05 third round pick (84th overall) fared alright in his first full season- tallying three goals, three assists and 36 penalty minutes while posting a plus-three rating over 61 contests. The 23 year-old from Ottawa also took part in one playoff game.

Used primarily as a sixth D by former coach Jacques Lemaire, Fraser didn't see a ton of ice-time. However, he brought physicality to the blueline and surprisingly contributed offensively. Prior to last season, he spent most of three years in Lowell aside from seven games with the big club as a 20 year-old rookie in '06-07.

With John MacLean taking over the reigns after spending a year at Lowell, it remains to be seen whether Fraser's role increases. Especially with the Devils beefing up the back end thanks to key additions Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, helping offset Paul Martin's departure to rival Pittsburgh. With only one offensive D left in '09-10 revelation Andy Greene, Lou Lamoriello could be in the market for another solid skating blueliner who can contribute. Physical vets Colin White and Bryce Salvador are also expected back, rounding out the blueline. Fraser will likely battle with Anssi Salmela and Matt Corrente for the final spot.

Much depends on what transpires with the Ilya Kovalchuk case versus the NHL. With the NHLPA filing an appeal as expected, the controversial 17-year $102 million contract will go to an arbitrator, who will decide its fate. Club owner Jeff Vanderbeek is hoping for a quick resolution so that all sides can move forward from the latest chaos caused by a league Hell bent on another lockout. It'll be interesting to see what develops from this and how it impacts the next CBA.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Moulson, Islanders avoid arbitration

The Islanders and Matt Moulson got it done, earlier today agreeing on a one year $2.45 million deal to avoid arbitration. After making the club as a roster invite, the 26 year-old former King who was close with rookie John Tavares formed solid chemistry- pacing the club with 30 goals and five game winners while playing all 82. Previously, the North York Ontario native got into only 29 over two seasons with Los Angeles.

Originally selected by Pittsburgh back in '03 ninth round (263rd overall), Moulson finally got the chance to show what he could do. In his first full season, he scored 30 while adding 18 assists totaling 48 points along with eight power play goals, which ranked third on the team behind Tavares (11) and Mark Streit (9). Only Kyle Okposo took more shots than Moulson (208), whose 14.4 shooting percentage also led the Islanders. Just a shade better than sophomore pivot Josh Bailey (14.3).

Rewarded for his surprise season which saw Moulson do plenty of dirty work in front, he'll have to prove it wasn't a fluke. The Isles certainly need the gritty left wing with a nose for the net to duplicate last season's success. With JT91 entering his second season, he'll need plenty of help from Okposo, who only converted 19 goals despite leading the club in SOG. More is expected from the Isles' former '06 first round pick (7th overall). Featuring a young nucleus that includes Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Blake Comeau and 2010 first rounder Nino Niederreiter, the Islanders will look to improve on the 214 goals they scored.

If Niederreiter is deemed ready, he may be able to help. However, the 17 year-old Swiss who doesn't turn 18 until September 8 is expected to return to the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL (Western Hockey League) for his second season. In Year One after coming over from HC Davos, he scored 36 goals and 24 assists for 60 points in 65 games while adding eight goals and eight helpers in the playoffs (13 GP). Impressive stuff from a player whose stock rose following a standout WJC in which he was named to the All-Star team.

While Islander fans track how Niederreiter and prospects Calvin de Haan, Travis Harmonic, Matt Donovan, Kirill Petrov plus 2010 picks Brock Nelson and Kirill Kabanov do in camp, it'll be up to Moulson, Streit, Dwayne Roloson and Trent Hunter to provide strong leadership on a rebuilding club that hopes to improve.

Rangers sign Frolov, Twitterverse not happy

It's official. Alexander Frolov is a Ranger. Following yesterday's post on the talented but enigmatic Russian, rumors circulated that he was closing in on signing with our club. The only hold up was that the now former King wanted two years. Fortunately, Glen Sather was able to get it done for one with it expected to be $3 million. Updating this, reliable Rycckuu Puck Daddy source Dmitry Chesnokov just tweeted that he should get a little more than that. Eh.

About what was expected. While it would've been nice to get Frolov for our $2.5 M, he did earn an average of $2.9 million on his last contract. So, even coming off a down season in which he fell out of favor with Terry Murray who used the 28 year-old from Moscow more on the third line and even healthy scratched him, it was probably going to cost a bit more. Especially to get him for one year.

Twitter universe wasn't feeling this move last night with colleague Scotty Hockey leading the charge- saying it's more of the same from an organization that only wants to get an eight seed and wallow in mediocrity. It's hard to disagree. He's dead on about the team being miles away from competing for a Cup. So, why not let a prospect compete in camp for the spot? Most likely because this is still a team that plays in the Big Apple and is owned by a nimrod who would rather see them at least make the playoffs so MSG can get valuable extra revenue out of a frustrated fanbase loyal to a fault.

It's like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, we want to see the team succeed and root for the logo which is why fans cough up good dough to go to games. On the other, it's clear that as long as Dolan owns this franchise, Sather will have free reign and the club will suffer because of it. Imagine if there was accountability. If they really cared about fielding a winning product, our senile GM would've been gone eons ago probably during the lockout. Instead, True Blue fans are stuck. Do we root against our own team in hopes that they finish bad enough to finally end this Era Error? Some like Broadway Blue are willing to see them fall as far as possible in hopes that they get a high draft pick. But as Drea also alludes to in another tweet, the Rangers still lack a No.1 center with Slats actually excited for Erik Christensen. A waiver pickup who they re-signed. You just can't make this stuff up.

It would be one thing if they had a top playmaking pivot who could get the puck to Marian Gaborik and Frolov if he plays top line. Though personally, I wouldn't throw all my eggs in one basket. This team has lacked balanced scoring. Unless that changes, it will be another frustrating year full of teases.

Can Frolov help? Sure. As we already noted, he's got high skill capable of finishing and setting up goals. Unlike Scotty Hockey, we'll say that Frolov is far from one-dimensional as he can kill penalties if needed. He also is better on the cycle than Nikolai Zherdev, able to use his 6-2, 204 frame to ward off defenders. There are two big questions that Frolov must answer:

1.After reportedly turning down approximately $20 million over four years from the KHL, opting for one more year in the NHL before deciding his future, how motivated will he be?

2.Coming in with consistency issues, can he silence the critics?

If he fails at either, it won't be long before he's in John Tortorella's doghouse. If the club struggles or he underperforms, they can always move him at the deadline. Still, at at least three million with no wiggle room, what does this mean for Marc Staal? Shouldn't our best defenseman have been top priority?!?!?!?!?! More of the same old, same old from a washed up executive who treats free agents better than his own players. Bye bye Redden? For the love of God and all of sanity, please see to it that Tinman isn't oiled up.


Derek Felix of Battle Of New York

Monday, July 26, 2010

Rangers interested in Frolov

They took a chance on one enigmatic Russian to start the Post-Jagr Era two summers ago. Now, the Rangers are reportedly interested in Alexander Frolov, who remains unsigned. Last night via Twitter, reliable Rycckuu Puck Daddy source Dmitry Chesnokov tweeted about the possibility of the 28 year-old King winding up on Broadway.

In seven seasons all spent in Hollywood, Frolov's tallied 168 goals along with 213 assists for 381 points over 536 career games. Solid but unspectacular for the gifted Russian who the Kings drafted back in '00 first round (20th overall). Out of the seven, he's scored 20-or-more five times and hit 30-plus twice, posting a career best 35 in '06-07 which turned out to be his defining year- playing all 82 while adding 36 helpers totaling 71 points, 10 power play goals, a shorthanded goal and six deciding markers.

Since, the streaky player from Moscow has seen production dip, going from 67 points in '07-08 to 59 in '08-09 to 51 last season. His 19 goals and 51 points were the lowest output dating back to Frolov's rookie year of '02-03 (14-17-31 in 79 GP). So, is this a player that can help the Rangers? Perhaps. He's got high skill and similar finishing ability a la Broadway flop Nikolai Zherdev. What to make of the recent decline? Who knows? Two years ago, he still lit the lamp 32 times including a career high 12 PPG. One thing which is shocking is that Frolov doesn't shoot enough, averaging a shade over 170-per-season. But also similar to Zherdev who signed with bitter nemesis Philadelphia, he's versatile- registering 30-or-more assists in four of the past five campaigns since the lockout. That included a career best 44 in '07-08.

The burning question is is he worth the gamble? Surely, Frolov shouldn't cost a ton, having earned four million this past year but at an average cap hit of $2.9 M. Combined with a down year and not much of a market, he could be forced to take a paycut. Something we're certain agent Don Meehan wants no part of. But if LA and New York are the only real players, then that doesn't leave much of a bargaining chip for the Frolov camp.

It's true that the Blueshirts lack high end skill and could use a player like Frolov to assist Marian Gaborik. However, they have little room. Glen Sather must still re-sign Marc Staal, virtually leaving no space. Of course, that could change once October hits if the Wade Redden to Hartford rumors are substantiated. If they do land Frolov, it better be for no more than two years after the Ales Kotalik debacle. Personally, I'd take him for one at $2.5 M knowing that if he struggles or the team does, they can always move him at the deadline.

If it were up to me, I'd advise Frolov to stay put on an emerging LA club that should only improve. We're not in his head.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Islander nation up in arms over MSG not renewing Jaffe

On the news front, disappointing stuff kudos of MSG. But what would you expect from a network that couldn't be bothered to air the Ilya Kovalchuk press conference (even if preliminary). Today, comes the latest disappointment with Islander TV color analyst Billy Jaffe not returning to the booth.

UPDATE: Per Chris Botta's tweet:

ChrisBottaNHL: Multiple sources confirm: MSG had contract done for Billy Jaffe, Islanders shot it down. Reason: not positive enough.

If that really is the reason, it's just pathetic. Does every broadcast have to always use rose colored glasses?!?!?!?!?! Between the mishandling of Bryan Trottier, firing their head scout and this, the Islanders yet again have egg on their face. Guess Charles Wang has a bit of Dolan in him too...

What a farce. At least in this blogger's eyes, Jaffe and Howie Rose formed the best broadcast duo among the Battle clubs, demonstrating superb chemistry while educating and entertaining Islander fans. Even if you weren't, it was easy to admire the style Jaffe brought from Atlanta to the telecasts- giving a no-nonsense approach that we rarely get from company man Joe Micheletti and Martin Brodeur loyalist extraordinaire Chico Resch.

With one of the best play-by-play men in Rose and one of the rising analysts in Jaffe who did solid work for Versus, the Islanders were not only a fun watch for John Tavares but for the back and forth banter we got from Howie and Billy. What we admired most about the tandem was that they knew when to turn it on, often getting into good discussions on the game. Whether it was taking a referee to task for a questionable call or debating rules or even telling cool stories, they always had the fans' best interest.

So, how do you think they reacted to this? Close friend Angelica Rodriguez summed it up best:

ReinaDeLaIsla @BattleOfNewYork absolutely ridiculous. Howie and Billy's broadcasts were my favorite part of Isles games most of the time. Ugh.
ReinaDeLaIsla @BattleOfNewYork seriously considering starting SOMETHING to try and bring him back... ahaha.
We second that notion! Some more reaction on Twitter echoed her sentiment:

NHLArenaNYIsles Looking@ all the comments on Botta's page. #Isles fans keep saying Jaffe gone is cost cutting by NYI. But NYI aren't the ones who pay him!
JeffMarek Sad day for NYI hockey: Billy Jaffe not renewed as Islanders TV analyst. Charles Wang to take over? He does everything else so why not?
ChrisBottaNHL In 90 minutes, 262 comments about the departure of Billy Jaffe - running about 95% pro Jaffe

BDGallof when I was in Philly, Billy Jaffe was hanging with the ESPN boys. He is well-respected & liked. Don't expect him to be out of work for long

PuckCentral @ChrisBottaNHL I don't get it, Jaffe was a good analyst & seemed like a good guy (not that being a good guy guarantees you a job)
ChrisBottaNHL Now the Islanders willingly say goodbye to a popular TV analyst who sold their rebuild on many outlets and did volunteer work for them.

You get the point. Jaffe is well liked/respected in the hockey community. You can bet your bottom dollar that the 41 year-old will land on his feet. A tough loss for local puckers but a gain for other fans.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sabres reach terms with Kaleta

While there's been plenty of noise over Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils and the NHL, the Sabres have had their usual quiet summer. They watched Henrik Tallinder depart for Newark and replaced him with Jordan Leopold. While Tallinder's loss might hurt, no one will miss Toni Lydman, who was the weakest link on the Buffalo blueline. The Finn moved to Anaheim where they'll soon discover just how soft he is.

With little happening in Western New York other than one-time Devil Rob Niedermayer becoming Adam Mair's replacement, teflon GM Darcy Regier actually got something done for a change today- re-signing gritty forward Patrick Kaleta. In reaching agreement (2 yrs, $1.815 million) with the 24 year-old pest who established new career bests in goals (10) and points (15) while adding 89 penalty minutes over 55 contests, the club avoided arbitration. A tedious process even the hometown kid wanted to avoid.

"I was never a big fan of arbitration, going in there and pleading cases," a pleased Kaleta told the Canadian Press. "So I'm happy to get it over and done with and not have to worry about it."
For a player selected in the '04 sixth round (176th overall), the former Peterborough OHL product hasn't fared too badly, evolving into a third line energy type that drives opponents nuts. He loves to throw the weight around albeit sometimes after a player releases the puck, wreaking havoc and of course plenty of enemies. One such rival was ex-Ranger Paul Mara, who one night snapped after another borderline hit, getting himself tossed while Kaleta and his Buffalo 'mates got the last laugh on the scoreboard. That's his style. To agitate. He always seems to get the better of the Rangers, victimizing them with his first career two-goal game in a Sabre win at MSG on 12/12/09.

In '09-10, he added offense to his resume improving on a four-goal, five assist '08-09 by hitting double digits in goals for the first time in the NHL. Despite his antics, he's an effective hockey player who should improve. Something that will make Sabre fans happy.

"I had to look at it in a way that the team wanted me to play here next year no matter what," Kaleta added in a piece on the official Buffalo Sabres site. "I'm proud of what I've accomplished so far personally as a hockey player in Buffalo. Hopefully it's only a small portion of what I can do."

Now, if only Regier would open the wallet to further bolster a club that finished atop the Northeast before a disappointing first round ouster at the hands of bitter rival Boston. And by that, we don't mean bringing back Patrick Lalime. As our resident Buffalo lurker might say, don't get your hopes up.

Kovalchuk in purgatory: Day Two thoughts

It's been almost thirty-six hours since the NHL officially rejected the Devils' 17-year $102 million contract for Ilya Kovalchuk and I'm still annoyed at this league for what seems like an arbitrary power play against the NHLPA in advance of the next CBA war in two years. Not to mention a power play against the Devils, since we know if it was the Kings, Blackhawks, Flyers and Red Wings that inked these deals they would be approved with only a half-hearted investigation later. Why do we know this...because it's already happened! Specifically with Marian Hossa in Chicago where the league approved the contract then half-heartedly investigated after the fact.

True, I admit the Devils pushed the boundaries even further than those other teams adding a couple more years onto the deal, making multiple years at the end of the deal minimum salary and under $1 million and changing the no-movement clause of the first several years to a no-trade in the last several after a one-year window where Kovy can be traded or moved at will. While that hasn't gotten as much play as the number, I never heard of that kind of no-movement clause either. Yet, it's all legal under the CBA. How do we know this...because Lou Lamoriello hired a former NHL employee who helped work on the CBA to be what in the NFL you would call a 'cap guru'.

With all that you would think the league doesn't have a case, right? Well I guess that depends on just how broad the NHL's powers are in this CBA, which now doesn't seem worth the paper it's printed on - just like the Confederate dollar - and whether they have the right to arbitrarily reject a contract. If they do have a 'best interests in the game clause' then I call shenanigans over why they didn't do it before. I guess Original Six teams can get away with it (Philly too, though they hamstrung themselves while being cute since Chris Pronger was over 35 when he signed his deal so his retirement doesn't help them), but not us.

More to the point though, to illustrate the shenanigans involved here consider that while this fight is going on the NHLPA still hasn't picked an executive director (as much as I can't stand Don Fehr, the former MLBPA director who's up for the same post here, I wouldn't mind the NHLPA sicing him after Gary Bettman in a courtroom right about now). And unbelievably after five years of the CBA both sides still don't have an arbitrator in place for contract disputes. Granted this has never come up before to where there has been an arbitrator needed but still, it shows an unbelievable lack of foresight. Especially with the direction contracts were taking.

So part of the NHL's 'principled' stand is catching its adversary the NHLPA with its pants down. This saga could wind up being the Archduke assasination moment of the next CBA war (oh joy). You would think the skeleton crew that runs the NHLPA has to file a grievance over the NHL arbitrarily rejecting this contract, and they have until Monday 5 PM to do so. What comes after that is likely a messy process where the NHL drags its feet on approving an arbiter - since both sides have to agree to one first. Perhaps the NHL's counting on the fact the Devils won't be willing to take it to court because any hearing might not take place till after the start of the season, and the Devils would have to pre-emptively make a move to get under the salary cap since they can't be over it once the season starts.

If that's the case though I think Bettman's surprisingly underestimated his opponent. This is a GM that took on the league and won in the Jim Schoenfeld suspension in the wake of the 'donut' incident during the 1988 playoffs, and won again when he not only proved the Blues tampered with Brendan Shanahan but also successfuly argued for Scott Stevens as compensation. I don't think Lou's going to avoid a principled stand now.

Where Lou might have to answer some questions is over some of his quotes two days ago during the Kovalchuk press conference where he admitted contracts like this shouldn't be allowed though he quickly added 'but they're legal under the CBA and ownership was willing to make the commitment to this player'. Some thought he was trying to distance himself from the deal and give the credit (or blame?) to owner Jeff Vanderbeek but I don't believe Lou was trying to get himself fired, especially mere weeks after signing an extension himself.

More than likely Lou gave his opinion of Kovalchuk as a hockey player and Vanderbeek decided how far the team should go business-wise to sign him, with Lou doing his best to get the player to sign as evidenced by the recruiting work Kovy agent Jay Grossman saying Lou did to get this deal done. Lou saying he rolled his eyes over the contract length and value would be like me rolling my eyes at people paying over $100 for a seat at a regular-season hockey game, maybe we wouldn't do it with 'our' money but Vanderbeek didn't get to be as successful as he was by nickel-and-diming it either.

There's also the question of what Lou knew, and when in the wake of an ESPN report last night that Lou knew Monday night that the NHL 'would' reject the Kovalchuk contract yet the team still went ahead with the press conference the next day. Of course Devil-hater Scott Burnside broke the story and colleague E.J.Hradek backed him up. Then Tom Gulutti claimed to have the same information, until he realized he was mistaken and in fact Lou was told that the contract 'possibly' would be rejected. Don't these journalists know there's a big difference between would be rejected and could be rejected? A fifth-grader can understand that.

Of course there's been no retraction of the ESPN story yet as far as I know and I'm not sure how much I'd buy it even if it wasn't Burnside (who makes even Mark Everson look like the Devils' biggest fan in comparison to his trolling). Vanderbeek for his part claimed not to know the contract was rejected even Tuesday night. Would Lou go ahead with the press conference without telling the owner something that volitaile? Doubtful unless he had a career death wish. If there was prior knowledge there's no way he wouldn't tell Grossman or Kovy, witholding that kind of info could get them to bolt in a huff once the contract would be rejected and as of now they haven't made one peep other than Grossman expressing dissapointment that the deal was rejected.

So either they all knew beforehand or they didn't...if they did, then why go ahead with the press conference? As a preemptive salvo to the NHL? Perhaps, since Lou's quotes at the time about the contract did seem a bit odd and out of place. To make it harder PR-wise for the NHL to reject the deal if they were still 'thinking' about it? That's the only other plausible explanation that doesn't involve anything sinister (i.e. getting Kovy to commit to the Devils publicly so he can't back out of the deal). It seems odd to even be discussing these elaborate conspiracy theories and what they mean but does anything that happened in the last 48 hours seem normal to anyone else?

As to what happens next, it seems like we're in a state of limbo until Monday afternoon. Theoretically if Lou and Grossman wanted to restructure the deal quietly before that point - or if they want to talk the NHLPA out of filing a grievance - they could but I don't think they're going to punt that easily. If the NHLPA does seek to pursue legal action then one of two things could happen I suppose. Either (after a few month-long process that will likely stretch into 2010-11) the Devils win arbitration and get the contract as is, or they lose and have to pay a fine which also counts against the cap. That's perhaps the nuclear scenario from our standpoint, especially since Kovalchuk would go back to being UFA. Of course there are probably other scenarios that can come into play too but since this is so unprecedented information is still sketchy.

One thing's for sure, this offseason has had as many twists and turns as any playoff run, and it's not over yet.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

NHL rejects Kovalchuk contract

So apparently the deals for Marian Hossa and Chris Pronger which took them into their 40's that already circumvented the spirit of the cap were allowable but the deal for Ilya Kovalchuk isn't? Based on what, the fact Hossa and Pronger will be 41 and 42 when their deals are done and Kovy will be 44? Who is the NHL to determine what's an acceptable age, since it hasn't been done before? Chris Chelios is still playing at age 48 and Gordie Howe played professionally into his 50's. I'm not saying it's likely but come on, this is nonsense. You can't arbitrarily create a precedent when you ignored it in the past.

I fully expect as in the past when Lou Lamoriello challenges the league, he'll win yet again and the NHL will look even more foolish than it already is. God, I hate this league sometimes. Maybe Bobby Clarke whined again the way he did to get the trapezoid to neutralize Martin Brodeur, it wouldn't be surprising since he was already proven a hypocrite there and his organization just had to dump Simon Gagne for a spoiled ham sandwich because of the cap. On some level though I guess it's fitting. With all the twists and turns this saga has taken, why not a couple more?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kovy thoughts from the swamp

I'm sitting here still flabbergasted over today's events, not knowing how quite to start this blog. Especially since Derek's already done a good job of summing up the news of the day. In case you haven't been around for the last eight hours, the Devils have retained star winger Ilya Kovalchuk, in what came as a total shock to this blogger for two reasons.

One because the speculation of the last few days had him all but signed, sealed and delivered to Los Angeles. As the cynics pointed out though, if he wanted to go there as badly as some of his actions may have indicated then he would have found a way to take less and sign there. Clearly money wasn't the sole factor though, since Kovy still turned down more from the Thrashers months ago and allegedly turned down lucrative money from Russia to stay in Newark.

Actually the bigger surprise to me was that the Devils' biggest selling point - a winning organization - I thought took a big hit in Kovalchuk's eyes after our quiet first-round exit in this year's playoffs. Not so, in fact our reputation still worked in our favor as did GM Lou Lamoriello's personal touch (especially if you contrast it with Kings GM Dean Lombardi's public bluster), that made a difference according to agent Jay Grossman.

New Jersey remained absolutely steadfast in their interest. They were patient. They were understanding. They didn’t change their viewpoint, their position, anything in terms of their approach throughout the entire time.

“I think Lou, with his college background at Providence College as a recruiter, picked some of the tools out of his bag and he really was able to always call seemingly at the right time, always say the right thing. Again, you go out there and you look at things and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. He had a right to do it and, ulitimately, we realized that we came back to that point.”
Now that the Devils' stunning 17-year, $102 million contract is ready for NHL approval and the yearly salary structure is public knowledge, the speculation will come over what's next. Even with a surprisingly friendly cap hit of $6 million per season, the Devils will still have to move at least one player to get under the cap again before October since they were about $4 million under it before this deal.
Of course people will cry foul over this contract since Kovalchuk's salary takes a dramatic downturn at age 39, leaving room for a mutual buyout at that point to get the cap hit off the books so that Kovy isn't playing for minimum salary. Sure, it violates the spirit of the CBA and artifically lowers the cap hit but it's not like this is unprecedented. Philly did it with Chris Pronger and the Hawks have done it with Marian Hossa. Why shouldn't we take advantage of the rules too? Clearly in the next CBA negotiations this loophole will have to be closed one way or another.
And yes, there is always the inherent danger that Kovy can get hurt early in the deal a la Rick DiPietro and have the contract be a cap-killer but if Kovy was signed to a shorter term deal for more money and gets hurt in the first year, that deal would be even more of a cap-killer. Plus he isn't over 35 at the time of signing the deal so the consequences of replacing an injured player are less prohibitive. You have to pay top money for top talent and there's no disputing Kovy's talent. To put the cap hit in perspective it's less than Wade Redden's cap hit on the Rangers. And just a million dollars more than Brian Rolston on our own team. You have to give up something to get something, which in this case means giving up more money up front to get cap space.

True, $100 million in just over ten years is a lot of money to shell out for owner Jeff Vanderbeek, who's made Grossman a rich man in recent weeks after deals with fellow clients Anton Volchenkov and Johan Hedberg. Not to sound cold, but that's not my concern. I'm just glad we have an owner who's a legit fan of the team and wants to win. Not every owner fits that category.

And a final word about the process, which took eighteen days to sort out from the start of free agency on July 1. Although I've given the media a lot of well-deserved flak for the myriad of speculation, false information and rumors that were utter rubbish you have to give credit to the one guy who did call this - Larry Brooks of the Post, who tweeted this specific contract offer days before it was agreed to by the Kovy camp. I guess a cynic could say if enough people venture a guess, at least one has to be right but you do have to give credit where it's due.

Although Lou didn't manage to keep that offer under wraps, kudos to him as a whole through the whole process. While former protege Lombardi was all over the place grandstanding (and a big haha to the fact he didn't even get Simon Gagne, their supposed Plan B), Lou was in the background, seldom revealing much or negotiating through the media. Granted, he couldn't offer much when the ball was in Kovy's court but I'm glad he resisted the temptation to pull the offer and move on to other things the way a lot of Devils fans wanted him to do. Others have said that we should pull the offer because 'clearly' we weren't Kovy's first choice.

To that I freaking what? As if every free agent automatically signs with their first choice. You think the Yankees or their fans would give back CC Sabathia a season and a half after they were, at best a sixth or seventh choice for him to go to behind the West Coast teams? I certainly don't see Kovy as the type to lollygag it on a winner, maybe he did with the Thrashers as Chico Resch pointed out memorably during one Thrashers-Devils game early last season but it does become hard to get motivated to play on a perrenial loser. He was certainly more motivated last year than a lot of people who will also be Devils this season.

Whatever you want to say about Kovy's defensive deficiencies, his contract, our glut of left wings and the fact that teams don't win Cups in July you can't deny the fact that today's a good day for the Devils Legion. Businesswise despite the high salary it certainly helps Vanderbeek since the Devils sold out fifteen of eighteen games after Kovy came aboard last season. Plus it still leaves us with more than enough room to maintain fellow star Zach Parise beyond next season and on the ice, who wouldn't want to add a perennial 40-goal, 90-point scorer? Teams can no longer key on Parise solely, which should open things up for him in April and beyond.

Now we never have to look back and wonder what might have been with Nicklas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya and Patrice Cormier. For once a big name stayed with the Devils. Most offseasons (other than 2006 when Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner re-upped) we're lamenting over the ones that got away. Who would have ever suspected that we'd get both the top defensive defenseman on the market - Volchenkov - and retain the top offensive player by far in Kovy?

Kovalchuk Breakdown Plus Why He Stayed Put

Credit the Devils for working with Ilya to get this done. Full credit to Puck Daddy's own Dmitry Chesnokov, who's been a beast during this monstrosity. Here's the breakdown:

-earns $80 million over first 8 years hitting targeted $10 million average
-earns $15 million the next 2 years totaling 95 of 102 million thru first 10 years of contract
-earns $1 million-per-year over the final 7 years

On what Kovalchuk turned down, Dean Lombardi offered 15 for $80 million. By comparison, prior to being traded out of Atlanta, Ilya rejected a 12-year $101 million deal. Winning turned out to be most important to the 27 year-old fiery Russian with the rocket from the point. He gets his chance to do it in Jersey where Martin Brodeur has two years left on his contract and Zach Parise one before he re-signs. And yes, you know Lou will find a way to get it done. Just as he'll somehow find a magical taker for Brian Rolston.

Also of interest is a solid column from Inside Hockey's own Michelle Kenneth. She covers the team and had an excellent take on why Kovalchuk chose to remain in Newark. Entitled, "Ilya to Remain a Devil," it's a fascinating read. A couple of key aspects we liked:

First, building a team around him was a factor. The Devils moved in that direction and signed a couple of free agents to attract him to the team: Anton Volchenkov and Johan Hedberg. Both players are friends of Kovalchuk. Not only do the two signings make the locker room more comfortable for him, but it is also the beginning of a build around him.

Second, while many believe that inking Kovalchuk will create problems in re-signing Zach Parise next year, part of Kovalchuk’s decision to remain with the Devils is having Parise on board. The rivalries that could exist between the two players are merely a myth. It is very important that Parise remain on the team, because Kovalchuk wants his team to win. Parise is part of that design.

Third, Kovalchuk has repeated numerous times that he would take a paycut if it meant remaining with the Devils. He said it not once, but several times. A few weeks prior to free agency, that was still the same story being repeated. Whatever the offer was from the Devils, Kovalchuk’s decision was not purely based on the amount of money they were offering.
The point about them adding two former teammates in Heds and Volchenkov is dead on. Of course, he wants to win. So, retaining Zach Attack is a must even if many will compare the salary No.9 gets to No.17. And finally, he did take a paycut. Even if it's frontloaded with him getting the desired salary he wanted during his remaining peak years, he did good by the team. A couple of other things she touches on that make sense:

In the true dynamics that is the Los Angeles Kings, as luxurious of an item as Kovalchuk would have been for them, their future would have dwindled in the signing. It was not in their best interests to ink Kovalchuk if it meant giving up their future. That is also a future that would effect Kovalchuk being part of a winning dynasty. That, in itself, would have made the offer from the Kings unattractive.

Kovalchuk wants to be part of a winning team more than anything else. Since Day One with the New Jersey Devils, he loved the philosophy of how important it was to win. Losing was such a big thing to the Devils. With Atlanta, he said that losing was not that big of a deal.

For the Devils, losing is a big deal. You don’t want to be on that end of the spectrum in Devils territory. You might find someone throwing a jar of jelly across the room.

Outstanding point on why LA didn't fit. Even if they'd landed the sniper, it would have screwed them in the long run- forcing them to sell off players a la Chicago and Philly. What we saw with Simon Gagne going to Tampa for a bag of pucks was embarrassing. Nice way to treat the longest tenured Flyer, who really should be staying after how heroic he was in miraculous playoff run. Blame Paul Holmgren. We still can't figure out what he saw in Andrej Meszaros. The other points on the Devils being about winning while Atlanta essentially wasn't speak volumes. Nobody was happy with how this past Spring ended. Kovalchuk and the club had some unfinished business. So, he returns.
Now, we get to see how creative Lou is at finding takers for Rolston, Dainius Zubrus and perhaps Bryce Salvador. The Devs are built to win now. Will securing Kovalchuk finally translate to some post-lockout success?

Rumored Kovalchuk Numbers False, 17 for 102 Mill

Take it for what it's worth. According to an ESPN report, the Devils' richest star in franchise history Ilya Kovalchuk could be getting 17 years, $150 million when he makes it official at tomorrow's press conference in Newark. Yiiiiiiiikkkkkkesssss.

I want you to repeat this 10 times fast.

SEV-----EN-----TEEN YEARS ONE---HUNDRED-----AND------FIF------TY MILL-----I---ON!!!!!!

There is no other way to describe it as insanity. This from one of the most respected GMs in sports. Woooooow.

UPDATE: Well, no great shock that Scott Burnside was wrong. The official numbers are 17 years for a cool $102 million. At six million a pop, I'd say Kovalchuk took a huge discount just so he could finish the rest of his career in the Garden State. Maybe he wanted to upstage buddy Alex Ovechkin. But there's no way he's worth as much as Ovi and that played out with many teams not even bothering. Is Ilya one of the best pure snipers in the game? Absolutely. Can he put up points in a hurry? No doubt. But what other team was seriously going to give him that much security? Not only did Lou once again score big here but got the exciting Russian at a bargain, which means he should be able to re-sign top priority Zach Parise next summer. Only the Devils could pull something like this off. That's what you get when the GM knows too many loopholes in what's become a flawed system. So much for the cap resolving everything.

How is it good for the league that basically, three teams vyed for his services and one was from the KHL? He priced himself out. Here's one huge question we're hoping a reporter will have enough guts to ask tomorrow.

Q: Were the Devils your top choice?

A: Da!

:as Dean Lombardi chokes up his drink:

Kovalchuk D-Day: Re-signs with Devils For 17 Years

Well, after 16 days of chaos, it looks like Ilya Kovalchuk has finally come to a decision. That is if you can take his American agent Jay Grossman at his word via this tweet:

Jay_Grossman: Ilya Kovalchuk will make his decision today (for sure, this time!).

Personally, I don't care either way. As long as the Rangers aren't involved, we're good. The electrifying Russian sniper is expected to choose LA over New Jersey. Whatever. If the Devils do finish runner-up, we should be hearing from our resident Kool Aid blogger. What if he chooses them after all this drama? Wouldn't that have made these couple of weeks a waste? If he really wanted to be a Devil, he would've just re-signed already.

It would still be nice to get a conclusion so we can get on with the rest of the summer. Just don't hold your breath.

UPDATE: Based on a tweet from the New Jersey Devils, it looks like Kovalchuk is returning.

NHLDevils: HE'S BACK: Ilya Kovalchuk signs with the Devils. Press conference scheduled for Tuesday at the Rock.  

Simply amazing. Honestly, he and his agent teased everyone. Especially the Kings. Leaking the announcement irks me. I wanted to find out from the man himself. But the Devils ruined it. Guess they just couldn't wait to rub it in everyone's faces. Nothing like good PR. Did we just say that about a Lou Lams run franchise? The Devs have changed. Thank Jeff Vanderbeek.

What this does ensure is the Devils must start cutting payroll. Likely candidates are Brian Rolston, Bryce Salvador and Dainius Zubrus. Let the firesale commence.

UPDATE II: Per reliable Puck Daddy Russian reporter Dmitry Chesnokov, it looks like Kovalchuk's deal is for 17 years...

dchesnokov Kovalchuk's mother tells Pavel Lysenkov of Sovetsky Sport that Kovalchuk's deal with #NJD is for 17 years.

Wow. That is insanity. Nobody can ever talk about the Devils being fiscally responsible after this. They just committed 17 years to Kovalchuk, who by the end of the contract, would be 44. I thought these kinda deals were done but apparently not. Even the great Lou has lost it. Anything to justify the means I guess. He does make their club stronger at least on paper. Whether it finally translates to New Jersey going deep in the playoffs remains to be seen. Also up in for debate is how this megasigning affects Zach Parise, who turns restricted next summer. There could be a lot more changes coming to Newark over the next year.

The press conference is tomorrow live at The Prudential Center at 1 ET.

UPDATE III: Per Chesnokov, it looks like the deal is 17 years for over $100 million. Yikes. What lockout?!?!?!?!?! Guess there's gonna be another one. I am mystified.

dchesnokov The 17 years, $100m+ for Kovalchuk is what I stand by.

It should be interesting to see the particulars. I don't know anymore. I now think 2004-05 was a total farce.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sauer returns

Unlike a Stone Temple Pilots hit song, there was nothing sour the other day for Mike Sauer. The last link to the Brian Leetch trade re-signed with the Rangers Thursday. The 22 year-old St. Cloud, Minnesota native was selected by the club in the 2005 second round 40th overall ahead of Paul Stastny.

For the younger brother of Kurt Sauer, injuries have been the issue. In three pro seasons spent mostly with Hartford, the defenseman's missed 50 games, including 40 in '09-10 which derailed his chances of getting another cameo on Broadway. He previously played three NHL games in 2008-09 registering two shots and posting a minus-one rating before John Tortorella overreacted to a poor second outing. Ironically, that year was his best- going 6-17-23, plus-29 with 35 penalty minutes, 2 PPG and 1 GW in 64 contests for the Wolf Pack.

Despite a strong season, Sauer was passed on the depth chart by impressive rookie Michael Del Zotto, who made the quantum leap from juniors to the NHL. Perhaps he wasn't given a fair shake due to the coach. Aside from that, the issue of Wade Redden didn't help. It looks like the Redden Era Error is about to end. Especially when you consider that the Blueshirts have already taken care of most of the blueline in re-signing Dan Girardi, signing Ryan McDonagh and adding Steve Eminger in the Aaron Voros trade to Anaheim.

With only vital anchor Marc Staal left, it's setting up to be an interesting September. While we're still six and a half weeks away from it, it's never too early to look at where the Rangers are on a D which must improve. Incumbents Michal Rozsival, Staal (once signed), Girardi and Del Zotto are all but assured of the top four. After that, it's anyone's guess as to who makes up the final three. Redden and sophomore Matt Gilroy figure to get  healthy competition from Eminger, McDonagh and Sauer. With overwhelming support for Tinman to be dumped to Hartford, the competition is welcome.

One big question remains. If Staal signs and the kids outshine Redden, does Glen Sather have the guts to finally admit his big error by designating the veteran for assignment? Only time shall tell.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rangers sign Dupont

The Rangers re-signed forward Brodie Dupont. The former 2005 third round pick played 80 games for AHL affiliate Hartford posting 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points while racking up 124 penalty minutes. He ranked fifth in goals and points while his two shorthanded goals tied for second on the club.

In bringing back the 23 year-old out of Russell, Manitoba, the Blueshirts are giving a player who netted his 100th career AHL point on Apr.3 at Springfield one more shot. At best, he sounds like a two-way pivot who can provide energy. Maybe he'll compete against incumbent fourth line center Brian Boyle in camp. Otherwise, it's another year in the 'A.'

Just another organizational move as we still patiently wait on Marc Staal. As long as it doesn't evolve into the Kovalchuk $aga.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Rangers sign Jeremy Williams

In an organizational move to bolster Hartford, the Rangers announced the signing of Jeremy Williams. The 26 year-old forward joins his third Original Six after spending the first two parts of his career with Toronto and Detroit.

The original Leafs' '03 seventh rounder signed with the Red Wings last year, spending his time at AHL affiliate Grand Rapids. In 77 games, Williams established new career marks in goals (32), points (63) and shots (210). His 32 markers placed eighth in the 'A' while also notching 14 power play goals (T-4th). Solid pickup for the Wolf Pack who lost Corey Locke and P.A. Parenteau.

Williams has taken part in 31 career NHL games all with Toronto, posting nine goals and two assists for 11 points. In '08-09, the Regina, Saskatoon native played in 11 contests, registering career bests in goals (5), assists (2) and points (7).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kovalchuk saga nearing resolution?

I've wanted to stay away from the rumor mill for the most part until a decision is announced one way or another, but the news that Ilya Kovalchuk is traveling to Los Angeles for face-to-face negotiations with Kings GM Dean Lombardi tomorrow lead many to believe an agreement is imment, though for his part Lombardi denies this.

``Ilya is coming out to LA,” Lombardi told ``We’re going to meet face to face. But reports that we are announcing his signing tomorrow are utterly and completely false. We have no deal. We’re not even close. I mean, who knows, maybe we’ll get close tomorrow but we have no deal right now.”

Of course it suits him to say that a deal isn't imminent, since it helps him retain the hammer he currently holds over Kovalchuk in negotiations. With the hundred different rumors out there in the ten days plus that this saga has taken place the one constant seems to be Kovy's interest in LA, given that they've had at least two different discussions that have both ended with Lombardi publicly walking away from the table with a hard-line stance while there's been little information coming out of Jersey. Whether Kovy bends to get a deal now or has to beg for one later it seems obvious that LA's his first choice and one way or another he's going to wind up there.

Personally, if Kovy does go to Los Angeles I'll be more annoyed over the fact that it becomes less likely that sweeping changes will be made if he leaves, since his signing would have forced GM Lou Lamoriello to part with one or two players that the locker room really doesn't need next year. As it is, it looks like much the same team will be returning next season - minus Kovalchuk and defenseman Paul Martin with only fellow defensemen Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder as major additions, and very little in terms of top quality available in either UFA or the trade market.

Clearly though the cap crunch Kovy would have put us in isn't going to be missed and now - if Kovy's officially heading out the door tomorrow - there's no reason for Lou not to sign Zach Parise to an extension sometime between then and next offseason before arbitration where some team could also throw a wild offer sheet at him. Plus there's little evidence Kovy will be the linchpin on a contending team anyway as judged by his up-and-down results with the Devils. Though he was one of the few to give effort, it was rather disjointed at times and that combined with the lack of backchecking skill...well let's just say the uber-purists can probably rest easy now.

On a personal note, I have to say I'm rather surprised and dissapointed with the way the Kings' GM has conducted a very public negotiation. All credit to him for playing the hard-line and it appears that Kovy's camp might be bending finally and if so Lombardi's won the batttle, that's all well and good. However, the public nature of the posturing is a little distasteful and unneccesary. Going out of your way to say the player's demands are outrageous one day then two days later being back in the negotiations, let's just say it's a bit disingenuous at best and Brett Favre-like attention grabbing at worst. As annoying as Lou's silence can be at least he isn't using the press to negotiatiate or play public games.

Too bad all this will probably accomplish in the end is just strengthen the notion that big names don't want to play in New Jersey. For every Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur that stay, a roomful of others like Martin, Kovy, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski (though to his credit he did stay the first time he was a UFA) were all too happy to find greener pastures elsewhere. If most of our departing UFA's before the lockout like Bobby Holik and Alexander Mogilny didn't have success after leaving, seeing Niedermayer, Rafalski and John Madden all win Cups with other teams in a very short period of time has been somewhat annoying. Even if I still like Rafalski and was rooting for Madden's team.

And yet with the way this whole negotiation has gone I still wouldn't be stunned to hear that talks have broken off once again tomorrow, especially if Lombardi turns the screws even tighter. All I have to say is Kovy if you're leaving, you better do it now.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rangers re-sign Girardi, swap Voros for Eminger

Twenty four hours removed from a predictable disappointment of a clown for the other Garden tenant, the Rangers took care of some business by getting Dan Girardi re-signed and swapping Aaron Voros for Steve Eminger.

From most indications, it looks like Glen Sather got Girardi at fair value with it rumored to be two years, $4 million. Not bad considering there'd been talk that the 26 year-old who made the team as an undrafted free agent in '06-07 was said to be seeking three million-per-year. Instead of going to arbitration, the overachiever from Welland, Ontario returns for two more seasons at a friendly price.

UPDATE: Per Larry Brooks of the NY Post, Girardi received four years at $3.325 million-per-season. So much for the more affordable rumor. It's definitely overpayment but more in line with what he wanted. How that impacts unsigned Marc Staal remains to be seen. The cost just went up thanks to San Jose signing Chicago blueliner Niklas Hjalmarsson to a four-year, $14 million offersheet which leaves the Hawks seven days to match. That development certainly isn't positive for the Rangers, who must get Staal done.

In the mean time, Slats has done admirably getting Girardi re-signed along with Vinny Prospal and Erik Christensen while also signing Wisconsin duo Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh. If only he didn't break the bank for one-dimensional pugilist Derek Boogard. Well, you can't have everything when you got a senile GM running the asylum. Hopefully, Martin Biron doesn't bomb as Henrik Lundqvist's backup and Boogard protects teammates and maybe miraculously scores a goal.

As much criticism as Girardi received for not standing up for Marian Gaborik in the Daniel Carcillo humiliation, he did learn stepping in for Artem Anisimov against the hated Flyers where this time the culprit was clown Scott Hartnell. Is Danny G perfect? No. Consistency is still an issue for the soon to be fifth year NHLer. He's had good moments where he not only plays steady in his end but also contributes offensively. However, there have also been bad ones where he doesn't get it done and isn't a factor.

Perhaps that's to be expected from a guy who wasn't drafted. Still, this is a top four D who logs big minutes. Whether he's being used in a shutdown role alongside Staal or working with promising Mike Del Zotto, Girardi's been a good team player. He also isn't afraid to mix it up as his 180 blocked shots (6th in NHL) and 178 hits (T-12th among D) demonstrate. Not only does Danny G sacrifice his body but No.5's been durable playing in 280 consecutive games. There were quite a few where he took his lumps and returned. If he can improve on the six goals and 18 helpers produced last season, that would be nice. It's a matter of consistency. He'll certainly be one of the club's leaders. Time to step up.

After getting one order of business done, Slats wasn't finished, sending the popular Voros along with prospect Ryan Hillier to Anaheim for Eminger. The 26 year-old from Woodbridge, Ontario is a former first round pick ('02-12th overall) who's bounced around the league. Originally a Cap, he's moved four different times over two years going from Philly to Tampa to Florida and then Anaheim where he performed decently- registering four goals and 12 assists with 30 PIM while registering 99 blocks in 63 contests in '09-10.

Truth be told, Eminger isn't bad. He can skate and move the puck effectively while also being capable of offense. By moving Voros who earned a ton of respect from teammates and fans alike this past season, Sather fills a void. It's essentially an even swap with Eminger making $1.5 million to Voros' $1.4. Voros' days were numbered once the Ranger Team President/GM committed to Boogard and re-signed Brandon Prust. With Sean Avery also back and possibly Dane Byers or Dale Weise competiting for a spot, it made sense to move Voros, who hopefully will get a better opportunity with the Ducks.

Acquiring Eminger, who's a righty shot means that he'll be in competition with sophomore Matt Gilroy for the sixth slot on the blueline. Figure Gilroy to have the upper hand but he better not take it fore granted. Now, all Slats must do is get Staal under contract. As long as he can, the Wade Redden Era Error should finally end. Here's hoping.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

One Blogger's Take On Kovalchuk/Nabokov

It's way late or early depending on your schedule in what's become the hottest, most uncomfortable week of the summer. With temps climbing into triple digits and unforgiving humidity, it ain't easy. Especially for summer activities and sleep. Wherever you are, hope you're keeping cool.

Today, it will be Thursday which means three days have passed since Ilya Kovalchuk was supposed to sign. Instead, all we've gotten is smoke screen after smoke screen with the 27 year-old Russian superstar and his agent Jay Grossman playing a game similar to the biggest ego of them all known as LeBron. As fraudulent as he is with butt buddy ESPN sucking up along the way, at least we'll know where he winds up tonight.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Kovalchuk who apparently is hesitant to re-sign with the Devils as was reported by NY Post's Mark Everson. For some reason, seven years $60 million from a team who traded for him at the deadline and improved already this July hasn't been enough to reel him in. While he's left the Garden State hanging, the former Thrasher has pulled the Kings back to the table. There's also stiff competition back home with the KHL's SKA St. Petersburg chasing him. However, the likelihood that he leaves the NHL for them doesn't make sense. Especially with ex-Shark goalie Evgeni Nabokov signing there for four years, $24 million.

On the subject, what a shame that such a quality netminder ran out of alternatives- opting to return home for what looks to be the end of his career. The soon to be 35 year-old played for one team in the league, helping backstop the Sharks into one of the league's elite clubs. Sure. They never quite got over the hump but it wasn't all Nabby's fault. Joe Thornton is the bigger symbol of San Jose's playoff ineptitude. In Year One, Dany Heatley didn't exactly distinguish himself during the second season. Was Nabokov part of the problem? Yes and no. While he didn't always fulfill postseason expectations, this time he got the Sharks to their first Conference Final since 2004.

A former '94 ninth round pick (219th overall), Nabby established himself as one of the better goalies in the sport. Among the accolades are a Calder, All-Rookie Team, two All-Star selections and one First All-Star Team in '07-08 when Martin Brodeur edged him for the Vezina. The career San Jose leader in almost every goalie category took part in 563 games, posting a 293-178-37 record with a 2.39 GAA, .912 save percentage and 50 shutouts. Including a splending rookie year that saw him win 32 games, Nabokov won 30-or-more half a dozen times, including 40-plus the past three seasons.

Sadly, he wasn't rewarded by any club with the Sharks opting to go in another direction by signing Antero Niittymaki. Even the goalie starved Caps passed, instead opting to stick with the kids. Amazingly, a durable goalie who's proven is out of the NHL. No matter how you slice it, that's a loss for the league. Just imagine if one of the best snipers joins him. We'd lose a very exciting player who can bring fans out of the seats. How would that look?

With even talk that Kovalchuk wants the cap strapped Rangers, all I can do is shake my head. If he really wants to win and play in the best league, either the Devils or Kings are much better fits. Each should be in the mix for the Cup. Coming to a rebuilding club like ours under intense media scrutiny would be a huge mistake. If he knows what's good for him, he'll wake up before it's too late. We already said Dac Vee Daniyah to Nabokov. Make the right decision Ilya.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

McDonagh signs

While our Devil blogger's mind wanders aimlessly over the whole Kovalchuk circus, the Rangers were able to add another quality prospect to their system. Earlier today, Ryan McDonagh signed his first NHL contract, officially joining the club that traded for him last summer as an important aspect of the Scott Gomez salary dump to Montreal.

At 21, the former Habs' 2007 first round pick (12th overall) is expected to compete for a spot on the Blueshirts' blueline this Fall. He played three years at Wisconsin teaming with familiar Ranger teammate Derek Stepan, who also recently turned pro. Listed at 6-1, 222 pounds, the St. Paul native decided to forego his senior year and a chance to captain the Badgers, who lost to Boston College for the NCAA title this past Spring. Now, the solid puckmoving defenseman looks to make the tough adjustment from college to the pros.

"I have so many people to thank," an ecstatic McDonagh said. "I obviously couldn't be here today if it weren't for my parents and all the coaches I had growing up. It's just a credit to my family and all my coaches who helped me develop as a player to get where I am today."

One of the factors in Ryan turning pro was how he fared at Ranger prospect camp where he excelled.

"The camp went really well, and it got better every day. "I just felt great after the camp and felt like this was definitely a spot for me. And they felt the same way as well. It worked great. It was perfect."

Going through it with Stepan is an added bonus.

"Derek and I are great buddies, obviously," he noted. "We are best of friends. We have been playing together at Wisconsin, and we played against each other growing up. Obviously, he was pretty supportive and everything. I bounced a lot of questions off of him, but he wasn't really drilling me too much in terms of asking what I was thinking. He kind of just left that for myself, which was good. Obviously to have seen him make the decision is exciting for both of us to be doing this at the same time."

Now, the two former Badgers will be looking to impress John Tortorella's staff this Fall. Hopefully, that'll include top tandem Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who remain unsigned. With limited cap space, it's imperative for Glen Sather to get them signed. Just don't expect anything too soon.

Kovalchuk saga now in sixth day with no resolution

No, there's nothing new to report on the Ilya Kovalchuk front yet. Truth be told there's been no legitimate news on the talented Russian since free agency opened on July 1. Sure, there've been a lot of rumors. Maybe one or two of them have even been true, but it seems like for every kernel of information that may be true there's a bunch of stuff that just is not. To wit, let's take a look at the many twists and turns of this saga so far.

Day 1 - It looked like he was headed to LA, they were in on the bidding and we were told they were on the verge of a major announcement...then two days later, they backed out with Dean Lombardi indicating they could not give Kovy what he wanted with further speculation from Calgary and Darryl Sutter that Kovy had priced himself out of the range of 30 NHL teams amidst rumors that Kovy and agent Jay Grossman were seeking over $100 million dollars.

Days 2 and 3 - Just as the LA rumors were fading, the Islanders burst onto the scene with a reported ten year, $100 million offer. A couple of days later, it turns out it was much ado about nothing, oh surely the Islanders have interest but those figures now look like nothing more than PR noise. Not to mention the KHL's reported offer of four years and $36 million got floated around this time, presumably as leverage, as was supposed interest from the Flyers (who have far less cap space than even us) and Avalanche via a Russian newspaper.

Days 4 and 5 - As Derek posted yesterday everyone's favorite journalist Mark Everson reported in the post that an agreement with the Devils was imminent, with the reported contract figure at around seven years, $60 million. Not to mention internet message boards and twitter were buzzing with speculation that an agreement was imminent with similar numbers. Maybe some were piggybacking on the Post, or some got theirs from the same source.

Day 6 - In any case, we're now in day six and still Kovy hasn't put pen to a contract yet...with anyone. While some people have indicated that Lou Lamoriello has put Kovy on hold until he can get his salary cap ducks in order, I'm not sure I buy it.

First of all, the Devils don't technically have to get under the cap until the season starts. We can be as much as ten percent over. Currently, we're around $4 million or so under the cap. Reported figures had us anywhere from $3.4 to $3.9 under, but Lou himself claimed we have a little more than that in a phone interview with the Record's Tom Gulutti this morning.

Plus as quiet as Lou, Kovy and Grossman have been publicly it's still the worst kept secret that we want to re-sign Kovy and need to clear some cap space to do so. Other GM's know this whether we actually move the contracts beforehand or not. Maybe Lou gets a smidge more of leverage if he moves some players (Brian Rolston and Bryce Salvador among the leading candidates) beforehand but I doubt it. Of course I could be wrong too, god knows I know nothing more than anyone else.

Probably my real reason for posting this though is my general frustration with the rumor mill. At this point I give up, nobody knows what's going on, what Kovy and his agent or thinking or why this is taking so long despite the fact that Kovy's number of suitors is basically down to two at this point with one being the KHL. As fast as Twitter and internet message boards do break news and that's fine and dandy - the flip side is the sheer amount of mindless speculation that makes it into the rumor mill is mind-boggling.

It seems to me at this point that everyone's more or less doing calculated guesswork. People have been reduced to pointing out where the Kovy story from two days ago is on TSN's website, or the fact that Kovy's bio has been removed from the Devils' website (which is frequently slow and inaccurate). Even people who have had reliable sources in the past - including one Hockey's Future poster who broke the Kovalchuk trade days before it happened - have come up with incorrect or premature information.

With my luck this thing will finally break tonight when I'm out at the movies seeing Knight and Day, with trades surely to follow. Or maybe we'll be in a holding pattern for weeks. Who would have thought LeBron would have a team (maybe) before Kovalchuk?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Will he or won't he?

Is Ilya Kovalchuk re-signing with the Devils as has been speculated by everyone's fave the NY Post? Or did they jump the gun?

Supposedly, the terms are seven years for $60 million, which would make the electrifying 27 year-old Russian star the highest paid Devil in franchise history. It would average a gaudy $8.57 million. If true, it would be the changing of the guard with penny pinching Team President/GM Lou Lamoriello finally throwing the gauntlet to someone other than key cogs Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias. The Devils would then become Kovy's team for better or worse even with Zach Parise having a year left at a golden bargain hit ($3.125 M) before being due a significant raise next summer. Zach Attack's '10-11 salary is $5 million.

While that'll be vital to New Jersey's long-term success, getting Kovalchuk to sign on the dotted line hopefully before the night ends would be huge. The Devils would enter this season as one of the favorites to challenge Atlantic rivals Philly and Pittsburgh to come out of the East along with Washington. Along with re-signing David Clarkson ($2.67 M), acquiring Jason Arnott, signing Johan Hedberg ($1.5 M) and adding blueliners Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, the Devs would be stacked. However, Lamoriello would also be forced to unload salary with likely candidates Brian Rolston ($5 M), Dainius Zubrus ($3.4 M) and either Bryce Salvador ($2.9 M) or Colin White ($3 M) possibilities.

If Kovy re-ups, that's a problem Lou wouldn't mind because his team should be a serious Cup challenger. The club needs to maximize their chances. Especially with cornerstone Brodeur not getting any younger. The 38 year-old future Hall Of Famer has just two years remaining on his contract. Bolstering the offense and solidifying the D would go a long way to chasing elusive Cup No.4.

The question is when will No.17 finally come to his senses. Unless he's really considering the Islanders or holding out hope some other team comes out of lurking, the Devils are his best option. They have a roster which is built to win now and the rumored terms are more than fair. What's taking so long? Only Kovalchuk knows.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Kovalchuk says Nyet to Kings

On our country's birthday, some surprising fireworks were delivered by Ilya Kovalchuk. The big Russian sniper said, "Nyet," to the Kings turning them down.

Credit LA Times' Helene Elliott who tweeted the update 20 minutes prior. In it, LA GM Dean Lombardi notes:

"We took our best shot to meet his needs and the team's."

So, all indications are that Kovalchuk won't land in Hollywood, leaving little options. A very encouraging development for the Devils, who now look like the frontrunners to keep the biggest free agent who they sacrificed prospects and picks for at last deadline. Unless you believe the rumored Islander offer (10 yrs, $100 million) is legit and enough to sway a player who supposedly wants to win a Cup, it looks he's New Jersey's to lose.

Unless some other team comes out of the woodworks, it would seem logical for the man who honors Russian hero Valeri Kharlamov by donning his No.17 to return to Newark for unfinished business. Having upgraded their D with solid additions Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder along with the reacquisition of '00 Cup hero Jason Arnott filling the void at center, it's a perfect opportunity for Kovalchuk to show what he's all about.

Hopefully, we'll finally have a final answer to this drama sometime tomorrow.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Kovalchuk saga goes into Day Three

Well the saga of Ilya Kovalchuk is now getting a little more interesting due to a very public entrance by the New York Islanders into the fray last night. According to a number of sources including Darren Dreger, their offer to the star sniper is in the neighborhood of ten years and $100 million. Yikes, didn't they learn anything from the Alexei Yashin fiasco? Clearly they're desperate to make a splash though, after being rebuffed despite making the highest offer to both defensemen Paul Martin and Dan Hamhuis and given the fact they're still several million under the salary floor they certainly have the cap space to do something ridiculous.

So what of the Kings and the Devils? Information is still sketchy but according to Mark Everson of the Post he's sitting on two similar offers of around $7 million per year from both teams, as well as the widely reported Islander offer. Yet for every five rumors about what Kovalchuk has and hasn't been offered by whom, none have been proven or disproven yet (yikes, now I'm talking like Lou). One thing that does seem certain at this point is Kovy's not going to the KHL. Not if he has a $100 million offer in the States, that would be beyond flaky. To their immense credit, Kovy and his agent Jay Grossman are now just sitting by quietly and patiently waiting for the market to develop.

Seemingly now the choice is obvious, either look like a hypocrite and take a similar offer from the Islanders that he turned down from the Thrashers months ago citing the need to go to a winner, or take tens of millions less to actually go where he wants to go (and whether that's New Jersey or Los Angeles is again, anyone's guess). Honestly at this point I wouldn't begrudge him one bit to go for the money, not when the difference is at least $30-40 million in all likelihood between the contracts. It would really show some chutzpah for him to turn that down and go either here or LA for far less, since leaving that kind of money on the table is basically unprecedented. Especially since neither us or the Kings are exactly the Penguins or Blackhawks in terms of recent success post-lockout.

Still it would be nice if this saga was resolved by the end of the holiday weekend so we can get on with our lives. As hockey fans we've all become conditioned to expect the big UFA's to be off the board within twenty-four hours, in fact the only one who I can think of offhand that took a few days was (cough) Scott Niedermayer. And we all know how that turned out, star Devil free agent bolts to go out west though at least Kovy doesn't have family in LA...well, none that I know about anyway. Plus given Lou's promises for big change, the Devils' precarious cap situation and logjam of stay-at-home defensemen, it feels like we're in a holding pattern now waiting for Kovy to decide.

Of course there's still more than two months to go before camp starts and three before the regular season, not that I think this will drag out anywhere near that long but it's something all of us (me included) need a reminder of as this negotiation drags on and on and the palace intrigue alternates between amusing, boring and exciting. One of the funny parts of the Isles' offer is that it came mere hours after Flames GM Darryl Sutter said that Kovy priced himself too high for 'at least 30 NHL teams'. Just more proof that nobody really knows what the heck's going on other than Kovy, his agent and maybe the GM's of the three teams in question.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rangers and Prust reach agreement

A couple of days after tendering Brandon Prust, the Rangers wasted little time getting the agitator to agree on a new contract with the two sides settling on a multi-year deal worth $1.6 million. A nice 800 K average for a gritty player who fit in right away after coming over from Calgary in the Olli Jokinen deal which sent Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins packing last deadline.

Amazingly, Jokinen wound up back in Alberta- reuniting with Darryl Sutter while Prust remains on Broadway where they'll continue appreciating his lunch pail style. It was the rambunctious energy he played with that nearly rallied the Blueshirts to a fifth consecutive postseason. As it turned out, he could do more than use his fists, which ranked third in the league with 25 majors. Prust also scored and set up important goals down the stretch before Brian Boucher outperformed Henrik Lundqvist in the shootout, ending the Ranger run at four.

Now, Prust gets a new deal and will be expected to play that same role as the energizer who gets the team going while getting underneath opponents' skin. Kinda sounds like Sean Avery, who no doubt will have to be more consistent next season if the Rangers are to challenge for a playoff spot. Something which won't come easy with Atlantic powers Philly, Pittsburgh and New Jersey continuing to improve yesterday. The Rangers' chief rival the Islanders also got better today.

Thanks to the botched Derek Boogard move, Glen Sather has backed himself in a corner, leaving a shade under six million to get Marc Staal and Dan Girardi re-signed. It looks like it could be a while before anything gets done. Not to worry though. We have the 1.65 million slug for four years.

Islanders bolster D with Jurcina, Eaton, add 2 more

Following a quiet first day, the Islanders had a strong Day Two adding four to their roster. Garth Snow bolstered the D by adding physical blueliner Milan Jurcina and shot blocking specialist Mark Eaton.

The 27 year-old Jurcina, who's spent most of his time in D.C., got a one-year deal worth $1 million. He should help take care of the front of the net along with 33 year-old vet Eaton, who has always flew under the radar. The former Predator played the past four seasons with Pittsburgh, helping the club win its third Stanley Cup last year. Signed for two years, $5 million, he's solid stay at home defenseman who gets in the path of shots making it difficult on the opposition. In '09-10, he finished with a career high 16 points (3-13-16) in 79 games while blocking 135 shots, which ranked 36th among all blueliners.

Both should bolster an Islander defense that still includes anchor Mark Streit, Bruno Gervais, injury plagued Radek Martinek, youngsters Jack HillenAndrew MacDonald and Dylan Reese. Adding depth to a shaky area is wise. But they also got experienced players who can make the blueline tougher.

Speaking of tough, the club also addressed a need by reaching agreement with former Bolt enforcer Zenon Konopka on a one-year deal. Last season in St. Pete, the rugged 29 year-old from Niagara, Ontario played his first full year achieving career highs in games (74) and penalty minutes with his 265 pacing the NHL, including a league-leading 33 fighting majors. Seven better than Ian Laperriere and eight more than current Ranger Brandon Prust. Team toughness was an issue for the Islanders with teams taking runs at John Tavares. With Konopka aboard, that should no longer be the case.

The Isles weren't done also adding former Ranger P.A. Parenteau. After spending much of his pro career in the AHL including three seasons with Hartford, the 27 year-old from Quebec finally got a shot faring alright on Broadway. In 22 games, the shootout specialist registered three goals and five assists for eight points. Three of the points came on the power play. Possessing decent speed and hands, Parenteau just might be a surprise for the Long Island club. He certainly knows how to finish as evidenced by a couple of memorable shootout winners, including one at Ottawa with his family in attendance. For P.A., it's a chance to show what he can do.

There are rumors that both the Islanders and Rangers may be interested in Alexander Frolov. Our nickname for him is Russian Enigma. Buyer beware.

Kovalchuk Still Deciding: As far as Ilya Kovalchuk, nothing new on the surface. Looks like it's a two horse race for the exciting Russian who overvalued the market. Will it be Hollywood which is much closer to Russia or Newark for the sniper? Much like LeBron in the NBA, we probably won't know until this Fourth of July weekend is out.

The Puck Stops Here


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