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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.

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NHL 2009-10 NHL All-Rookie Team

Below is the press release from the NHL announcing their 2009-10 NHL All-Rookie Team.

LAS VEGAS – The National Hockey League today announced the 2009-10 NHL All-Rookie Team, including four players who began the season as teenagers entering their first professional season: 19-year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers, 19-year-old center Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche, 20-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres and 19-year-old center John Tavares of the New York Islanders.

Also named to the All-Rookie Team are Atlanta Thrashers right wing Niclas Bergfors, 23, and Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, 26. Voting was conducted by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association at the end of the regular season.

Following is a summary of each NHL All-Rookie Team member’s outstanding season:


Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings

Howard seized the Detroit starting job in 2009-10 following a four-year apprenticeship at AHL Grand Rapids. The Syracuse, N.Y., native started 25 consecutive games from Jan. 29 to Apr. 4, the longest streak by a Red Wings goaltender since Tim Cheveldae (29) in 1991-92 and tops by a Detroit rookie since Connie Dion (26) in 1943-44. He posted a 37-15-10 record, 2.26 goals-against average and .924 save percentage, including a 15-0-2 run during his final 17 starts that clinched the Red Wings a playoff berth for the 19th consecutive season.

DEFENSEMEN (in alphabetical order)

Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers

Del Zotto became the youngest defenseman to suit up for the Rangers since 18-year-old Dave Maloney in December, 1974, and immediately gave the club an additional scoring threat on the blueline, capturing NHL Rookie of the Month honors for October with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 14 games. He finished the season as the scoring leader among Rangers defensemen with 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists), led all rookies in power-play assists (18) and ranked second in power-play points (22).

Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres

Myers not only won an NHL roster spot as a 19-year-old, he posted statistics befitting an established veteran. The 6’8″, 222-lb. defenseman led the Sabres in ice time per game (23:44), three minutes more than blueline partner Henrik Tallinder who ranked second. He shared second place on the club in plus-minus (+13) and was fifth in scoring (11-37–48). Myers ranked at or near the top in several rookie categories, including average ice time (first), shorthanded time (first, 3:04), assists (first), blocked shots (first, 137), plus-minus (T-second) and points (third). He also was one of four rookies to play all 82 games.

FORWARDS (in alphabetical order)

Niclas Bergfors, Atlanta Thrashers

Bergfors began 2009-10 as one of the New Jersey Devils’ top prospects; the 23-year-old Sodertalje, Sweden native was the club’s first-round pick (23rd overall) in the 2005 Entry Draft and had spent four years with the Devils’ AHL affiliate. He began his first full NHL season with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 54 games before moving to Atlanta in a trade that sent Thrashers captain Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey. Bergfors continued to produce for his new club, tallying 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in 27 games down the stretch. He finished fourth among all rookies in goals and points with 21-23–44 in 81 games.

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche

Selected third overall in the 2009 Entry Draft, Duchene earned a place on the Avalanche roster out of training camp as an 18-year-old. He went on to lead all NHL rookies in scoring with 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) in 81 games, shared the rookie goal-scoring lead with the New York Islanders’ John Tavares and ranked second among rookies in assists. The Haliburton, Ontario, native placed second on the Avalanche in goals and led the club in power-play goals (10) and multi-goal games (six). Duchene’s 55 points were the second-highest total by a rookie in Avalanche history behind Paul Stastny’s 78 in 2006-07.

John Tavares, New York Islanders

Tavares, selected first overall in the 2009 Entry Draft, was one of just three Islanders to play in all 82 games and led his club in scoring with 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists). The Mississauga, Ontario, native led all NHL rookies in power-play goals (11) and power-play points (25), tied Colorado center Matt Duchene for the rookie goals lead, ranked second among first-year players in points and was third in assists. His five-point effort (two goals, three assists) in a 5-2 win at Vancouver on March 16 tied a franchise rookie record and was the highest single-game total by a rookie this season.

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Race Tightens For NHL East Final Playoff Spots

As the regular season winds down for the NHL, the Eastern Conference current playoff standings are as cluttered as aDevils Thrashers Hockey pack-rat’s closet. After tallying the most recent scores, Montreal, Philadelphia and Boston all have 82 points and the Atlanta Thrashers are right on the doorstep with 80.

Last night while the Bruins picked up an important two points after getting a goal from Patrice Bergeron with just 18.3 seconds left in overtime to earn a 1-0 victory over their rival New Jersey Devils, the Thrashers picked up two with a 3-2 win in Toronto.

After the Bruins beat the Devils for the first time all season, Bergeron spread the credit. “It was a huge effort from everyone,” said Bergeron. “We need it. It’s in our hands. If we worry about ourselves and do the job, we shouldn’t worry about anybody else. We’ve got find a way to get that energy, that effort. We know it’s a tough schedule but no one feels sorry for us.”

The tough schedule he is referring to is the one that includes two road games against the Washington Capitals.

“We’re fighting for our lives right now,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Look around the league tonight. Teams that are chasing us also won. Every game has to be about desperation.”

Thrashers’ forward Colby Armstrong also commented on the tight race for the final playoff spots. “We know what the schedule is. Five games left and we’ve got some tough teams coming up. It’s really close.”

Like the Bruins, the Thrashers also will face some strong opposition that includes the Capitals twice and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final game of the season.

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Canada Squeaks Past U.S. 3-2 in OT & Wins Gold

VANCOUVER, B.C. – The 2010 Winter Olympic Games closed out with a classic hockey battle between rivals U.S. and Ryan MillerCanada and when it was all said and done, Sidney Crosby and his team sat at the top podium wearing gold.

A late goal by U.S. player Zach Parise with just 25 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 2-2 and forced it into overtime. With  host country Canada sitting at the edge of their seats, Pittsburgh Penguins player Sidney Crosby netted the winner in OT sending the arena and country into a frenzy.

The 3-2 victory marked the first time Canada has won gold on their home turf but it did not come easy. The overachieving U.S. team behind the stellar play of netminder Ryan Miller had upset the Canadians earlier in the competition and again showed up to play.

Miller was named the MVP of the tournament after setting a U.S. Olympic record with a 1.35 GA average. Jim Craig held the previous record of (2.14 GA) during the team’s 1980 Miracle On Ice gold medal run.

“It was tough to lose that way in overtime, but I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the team,” said US head coach Ron Wilson. “Their character was great throughout the tournament. It was a great game today and hockey in general wins.”

Canada jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews and Anaheim Ducks Corey Perry but the Americans fought back finally tying the game with 25 seconds left with Miller pulled for a 6th attacker.

The silver medal is the 11th medal for the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team and brought the final tally of U.S. medals in these Vancouver Winter Games to an Olympic-best 37. After never winning gold on their home turf, Canada took home the most gold with 14.

Note: Parise (4g-4a) and Red Wings player Brian Rafalski (4g-4a) led the U.S. scorers with eight points each.


Scoring By Period

CAN 1 – 1 – 0 – 1 – 3
USA 0 – 1 – 1 – 0 – 2

First Period – Scoring: 1, CAN, Toews (Richards), 12:50. Penalties: USA, Ryan (tripping), 14:02.

Second Period – Scoring: 2, CAN, Perry (Getzlaf, Keith), 7:13; 3, USA, Kesler (Kane), 12:44. Penalties: USA, Malone (high-sticking), 2:33; CAN, Staal (interference), 4:41; CAN, Toews (tripping), 8:25.

Third Period – Scoring: 4, USA, Parise (Langenbrunner, Kane), 19:35. Penalties: None.

Overtime – Scoring: 5, CAN, Crosby (Iginla), 7:40. Penalties: None.

Shots on Goal 
CAN 10-15-7-7- 39
USA    8-15-9-4-36

CAN Luongo, 36 shots-34saves
USA Miller, 39 shots-36 saves

Power Play:CAN 0-2; USA 0-2
Penalties: CAN 2-4; USA 2-4

Officials: Referees-Bill McCreary (CAN), Daniel O’Halloran (CAN); Linesmen-Stefan Fonselius (FIN), Jean Morin (CAN)
Attendance: 17,748

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Teflon Don is the Matt Millen of the NHL

Revised on February 10, 2010.

Now that Ilya Kovalchuk is donning a New Jersey Devil sweater and ‘goaltender of the future’ Kari Lehtonen has traded in his Thrashers blue for a Dallas star, it may be time to switch our (AP Photo/John Bazemore)speculation from ‘what team will win the Kovalchuk sweepstakes’ to ‘what city will the Thrashers be moving to’.

Don Waddell who was an assistant GM of the Detroit Red Wings and won a Stanley Cup with the team in 1998, has all but bombed since taking the helm for the Atlanta Thrashers and his journey has ‘Matt Millen’ written all over it.

Not to be outdone by Millen, in the same week he dumped Kovalchuk, he also traded another first-round pick Lehtonen. Add those two players to the other stars like Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa who have also left the building.

Know as Teflon Don for his ability to survive ‘sticky situations’ and somehow hang onto his job as his team remains near the cellar of his league for much of his 10 years as GM, he has set up the Atlanta Thrashers for failure by allowing his star players (again) to leave the building.

Many expect these latest moves to bury the franchise. With an arena that on many nights is blanketed with empty seats, this move may prove to be the team’s demise. In a recent column, Hockey News columnist Ryan Kennedy opines, “The future is bleak.”

Former GM and Hockey Night in Canada analyst Mike Milbury was highly critical of the Thrashers’ GM, and doesn’t believe Waddell got fair value in return for his star. “I think he misplayed his hand, and I think he badly misplayed his hand,” Milbury said. He went on to say that Waddell has a history of making bad trades.

In a more recent published piece in The Hockey News Rory Boylen explains, “In trading away Kari Lehtonen to the Dallas Stars Tuesday night, the Thrashers have now disconnected themselves from all but one of their six first round draft picks from the first five drafts of the team’s existence.”

That should sound familiar to Detroit Lions fans as they witnessed a similar situation under Matt Millen. Of the first round draft picks for the Lions between 2002-2006, only one player remains on the team and like the Thrashers many of those were high first-rounders.

Waddell jumped into a sort of ‘save face’ mode with a press release last week explaining in detail to the fans and media the millions that were offered and turned down by Kovy and his agent Jay Grossman but that dog and pony show may not go far with the fans here in Atlanta. The bottom line is Teflon Don let the face of his franchise go and could not convince the player to sign on the dotted line.

It has to be embarrassing to the franchise when a player refuses to accept $100 million to play NHL hockey in Atlanta. Shunning an offer of this magnitude speaks volumes and may represent what lack of faith Kovy may have in Waddell’s ability to build a winner.

Normally in sports negotiations, real estate transactions and corporate buyouts when lucrative offers like Kovy’s are put on the table they end up signed and done as long as the people at the top have the ability to close it.

After the trade Waddell had the audacity to say “I don’t think it sets us back at all. I think it moves us forward.”

That statement reminds me of when Millen, who is regarded as one of the most incompetent GMs in NFL history, was asked by the Detroit Free Press about his 0-2 Lions start and their record-setting string of losses under his management, he responded, “What we are doing is the right thing to do . . . stay the course.”

If Waddell truly believes that removing a superstar like Ilya Kovalchuk from the team and replacing him with a rookie who hasn’t scored in 13 games, a draft pick and a few other unproven players, then like Millen it may be time for him to move on. Millen also believed and he said it himself, “My initial thought was this: If you can’t get it done in five years, get out.”Problem in Detroit was, Millen said those words but did not live by them and years later he had to be pried from his seat.

Atlanta fans are experiencing a similar situation where a GM has been granted more than an adequate amount of time to produce a winner and has not.

Waddel made a few more comments that may have the fans shaking their heads. “We’re struggling with our attendance as it is,” said Waddell, whose team is tied 11th in the Eastern Conference standings, just a few points out of playoff spot. “The only way we’re going to bring fans back is by winning hockey games.”

So do you do that by trading away your leading scorer and one of the greatest players in the world?

It’s common for GMs to deal away players for a lot less value if they believe they will not get a deal done in the off-season but this is a case where the team could have kept Kovy and at least tried to make the playoffs then possibly coax him to accept one of the deals that was offered. This would have certainly put more fans in the seats for the remainder of this year, especially if they could have gotten hot like early in the season and gone on even a short playoff run.

Now that Waddell was once again unable to retain a star player, will the ownership have the guts to make the move that many fans in Atlanta (like Detroit with Millen) have been begging for, for years? Millen never willingly agreed to resign and the same is expected of Waddell.

Over the past several years it has been more than challenging for Waddell to get players to sign here even with Kovy on the team. UFA Brian Campbell turned down a reported $60 million contract that Waddell was said to have offered and opted to go to a team located in a snow belt who hadn’t made the playoffs in years.

Last year, that trend looked like it may possibly be changing when having Kovy in a Thrashers’ uniform convinced players like Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina to lace them up in the south. Now that Kovy is in New Jersey, many people expect these players to move on elsewhere when the opportunity arrives.

Also with Kovalchuk gone there is a strong possibility of losing two other players of the Thrashers Russian trio as well. The Thrashers obtained Maxim Afinogenov for $800,000and after a comeback season that has produced (17g-27a-44pts) ranking him first on the team in scoring, expect him to test the free agent market.

Ex-Red Wing player Slava Kozlov is the other of the trio we should expect to move on and possibly try to follow Kovy. Owning some of the league’s best shootout stats, Kozlov would help whatever team picks him up.

During this roller-coaster week of trade talks and negotiations, Kovalchuk spoke to the media. “You don’t want to be a distraction. We are in a playoff race and we are only one point from the playoffs, said the star winger. “Hopefully, we are going to figure something out.”

Waddell believed Kovy sincerely wanted to stay and said this after trading away the franchise’s best hope, “I think, Kovy right to the last day, wanted to be a Thrasher. But it’s a business decision.”

Yes it was Teflon Don, and a really bad one.

More Thrashers:

Waddell Releases Statement to the Media

Kovalchuk Showing Great Leadership in Atlanta

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Brodeur chases NHL Records after Shutout

ATLANTA – Philips Arena may have had a sea of empty blue seats for the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils game, but the few fans who did come to the rink were treated to a game featuring some solid goaltending on both ends of the ice.

Martin Brodeur was a brick wall, robbing the Thrashers at point blank range on several occasions, stopping all 25 shots he faced, for the 97th shutout of his career and a 1-0 win.

The 36-year-old Brodeur is only 10 victories from Patrick Roy’s NHL record 551 and 6 shutouts away from Terry Sawchuk’s NHL record 103.

Thrashers goalie, Keri Lehtonen, was busier on the other end and just as sharp; stopping 25 of the first 26 shots he faced. The Devil’s Brian Rolston broke a scoreless tie with a power play goal with only 1:03 left in the second period and Garnet Exelby in the penalty box.

The Thrashers who were 0-5 on the power play need to create some offense. “We hit a crossbar, and we hit a post,” said Ron Hainsey. “Kovalchuk had a great chance. We came storming back. We hit a post or a crossbar. There were some other chances down there. We just couldn’t beat their all-world goalie tonight on it. We had five great chances at him, and he made some unbelievable saves. That’s why he’s coming up on the best of all time.”

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