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Kovalchuk signs with New Jersey Devils


After weeks of negotiating and a melodramatic roller-coaster ride that traveled coast-to-coast, Ilya Kovalchuk will remain with the New Jersey Devils.

Kovy was this summer’s hottest NHL unrestricted free agent after tallying 40 or more goals over the last six seasons, most of those with the Atlanta Thrashers. There was heavy speculation that Kovalchuk would be signing with the L.A. Kings with some of that chatter still going on yesterday.

News first broke that Kovy would be signing when Kovy’s agent, Jay Grossman Tweeted on his Twitter account that an announcement and decision was definitely coming today. Shortly after that message, the Devils announced they had signed the star left winger.

“Ilya is excited to be continuing his career with New Jersey and knows first-hand the team’s dedication and commitment to winning,” Grossman said.

“We all know that, even looking at him on another team, that he’s an exceptional talent,” said Devils coach John MacLean. “As I’ve stated before, I have not heard from anybody throughout the organization a bad word about him. He’s a tremendous teammate and addition. He’ll have no issues playing for the team. He signed here for a reason — to try to win a championship. This organization has a good history of that, so you know he wants to be part of the team. That’s what I’m excited about.”

After skating in Atlanta and only experiencing the playoffs one time throughout his entire career and playing in a series where his team was swept 4 games to 0 by the New York Rangers, Kovy will be lacing them up for an organization with a strong recent winning history.

Kovalchuk had 27 points in 27 games wearing a Devils jersey last year and totaled 41 goals and 85 points for the season. In the trade for the Russian skater, the Devils sent solid rookie forward, Niclas Bergfors and defenseman Johnny Oduya as well as a few other pieces. For New Jersey to come up empty-handed would have looked like a real boneheaded move so they stayed in the mix throught the past several weeks before finally landing the player.

No details of the contract were announced, but you have to assume the Devils will have to shuffle some players to stay under their $59.4 million salary cap before the start of the season.

NOTE: While playing with the Thrashers, the former No. 1 overall pick in the NHL Draft scored 328 goals and added 287 assists for 615 points in 594 games.

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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NHL Free Agent Updates


The end of June means the start of the NHL free agent period. Here are some of the top stories creating the most buzz around the league.

Kovalchuk to the Kings?

Could this be the final piece in a championship run for L.A.’s “other” team. Even before the whisperings of New Jersey Devils Ilya Kovalchuk to the Kings, I thought Los Angeles might be the team of the future.

Already at 20-years-old you won’t find many defensemen as poised and as smooth as Drew Doughty, and it just seems like the Kings encompass every component of a winning hockey team.

Need physical play? Look no further than Dustin Brown, who with 24 goals last year, is begging to be a threat not only to those in the corner but to goaltenders as well.

Every team needs veteran scorers and leaders which the Kings have in Ryan Smyth and Michal Handzus, who does a great job clogging the lane on defense, but a team also needs someone with youthful energy.

For the type of player who doesn’t know the meaning of stop. Enter 22-year-old Wayne Simmonds, who responded to higher playing time after Ryan Smyth went down, with a streak in which he recorded 8 points in 6 games, scoring 4 goals.   

The Kings also have the type of natural scorer that every team needs in creative center Anze Kopitar, who like Simmonds and Doughty, is under 23. To say the future for hockey is bright in Los Angeles is about as obvious as saying that it’s a pretty decent place to find a plastic surgeon.

And if the rumors are true and Los Angeles is indeed at the front runner of signing Ilya Kovalchuk and there’s speculation the signing could occur as soon as early Thursday.

If the Kings win the Kovy sweepstakes, they will also dress their biggest superstar since Wayne Gretzky took the ice in the late 80’s. Since everyone wants to attach themselves to a winner, especially if you are as obsessed with relevance as the Hollywood set, might we soon be seeing Jack at Kings’ games? 

Does Savard get traded?

Bruins management has already shown their hand and said they are not looking to shore up the team with any free agent signings. Instead the B’s will try to cut salary from the books as they look to dump goaltender Tim Thomas ($5 million annual cap hit) and potentially center Marc Savard. ($4.083).

While most talk has centered on Savard possibly moving on to play in Toronto, a number of other teams badly need depth at the center position including the Washington Capitals.

Don’t be surprised if they aggressively become involved, however, a 7-year, $28.05 million contract might dissuade some teams.

Saku Koivu is still very much in demand. But why?

The center position has gotten a lot of attention in this brief pre-free agency period, and for good reason. The last four teams that made the Stanley Cup had elite depth at the center position with not one, but two guys who could play at the highest level. (Chicago: 1C- Kane.  2C- Sharp. Philadelphia: 1C- Briere. 2C- Richards. Pittsburgh: 1C-Crosby. 2C- Malkin. Detroit: 1C- Zetterberg 2C- Datsyuk).

Having one guy who can play but no second line center who can proficiently run an offense is no longer an option for teams that want to win at the highest level. This is a lesson that the Washington Capitals, with the great Nicklas Backstrom, but no one else who could significantly guide the offense at center, learned the hard way.

Because of that fact, even outside of the Savard trade talk, expect a lot of chatter over free agents like Coyotes center Matthew Lombardi, who plays a very complete game, as well as rising New York Rangers center Chris Higgins.

Like Higgins and even Lombardi, 35-year-old free agent Saku Koivu may not be considered a great option as a No. 1 center. Nevertheless with depth at center now a necessity and not a luxury item in the NHL, look at a lot of competition for him as the veteran center showed last season that he still has a little something in the tank with 52 points.

Scarcity of supply versus demand should have something to do with it. When Matt Cullen is your best center free agent option after Koivu, Higgins and Lombardi are eliminated, you know you are looking at a market for centers that isn’t exactly deep.

Finally, teams could also roll the dice and take a stab at Flames center Olli Jokinen, but at only 31, it appears his best years are well behind him.

The best of the rest free agent options.

The deepest position in the free agent market is at defense so we’ll start with that.

Anton Volchenkov, Defenseman, Ottawa Senators- I’ll straight up call you a liar if you tell me your team somehow does not need the man nicknamed the “Russian Bear.” A physical force; a puck moving defenseman and a man who averages 2.4 hits and 2.7 blocks per game. For the ladies enjoying this column, I’m also told he enjoys long walks on the beach and the poetry of Robert Frost.

Teams that may be actively looking for an upgrade at defense:

Buffalo, (if Henrik Tallander or Toni Lydman leave), Carolina, Colorado, Detroit, Edmonton, Long Island, (the Islanders have plenty of cap space,) Minnesota, (if the Wild lose Marek Zidlicky,) Philadlphia, (especially after trading the rights to Dan Hamhuis to Pittsburgh for a 3rd round draft pick) Ottawa, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Washington, and Vancouver.

Other prized defensive options

Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh– It appears that the Penguins are ready to give Gonchar his walking papers. Gonchar at 36 is still one of the best offensive minded forwards in the league, but unlike many of his offensive minded cohorts, (cough, cough, errr. Mike Green) he doesn’t typically make a lot of mistakes getting back into position or coughing the puck up.

Paul Martin, New Jersey- Martin’s game is no thrills in a good way. He rarely makes a mistake in his own end, and with the puck he may not go down the ice, guns ablaze, but Martin’s controlled style was perfect for the Devils power play. Martin finished the year with two goals and 16 assists on the power play, as his 18 power play points tied for the team lead.

The Highest Sought Free Agent Goaltender

Evgeni Nabokov, Goaltender, San Jose Sharks- Even though it always seems to come apart for him eventually in the playoffs, you can’t deny Nabokov’s considerable talent. You also cannot deny the fact that he is the only who has posted three consecutive 40+ win seasons in the past three years.

Teams that may be in the market for a goaltender

Atlanta, Buffalo, (backup to Ryan Miller) Calgary, Edmonton, Long Island, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, San Jose, (if they decide not to resign Nabokov,) Toronto and Washington.

The next best option after Nabokov

Chris Mason, St. Louis- With the Blues trading for Jaroslav Halak, it appears Mason has a one-way ticket out of the “show me” State. For everyone in search of a starting goaltender, Mason could be a relative bargain as he will likely receive less money than free agents Nabokov and Dallas goaltender Marty Turco, despite posting a solid 2.47 GAA in his two years with the Blues.

Best Bargain

Jay McKee, Defenseman, Pittsburgh Penguins- The perfect 3-5 defenseman on most any team. Jay “The Key” McKee is not the type of player that will ever have a slick New York marketing company touting his rugged individuality, but he is a player who is consistently steady, having only been a minus player in 3 of his 14 seasons in the league. McKee just plays the position and the man he is defending well, nothing more nothing less. McKee also averaged 2.21 blocks a game, having blocked 137 shots in 62 games. Not to shabby for a guy who makes $800,000, a year and next season might command even less.

Re-printed with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NHL contributor to Sports Climax.  

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

Posted in NHLComments (0)


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