Top 5 most likely NHL destinations for Ilya Kovalchuk (plus the KHL)

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kovalchukjuly1.jpgAlmost a month ago, I wrote a series of posts about Ilya Kovalchuk’s impending free agent status. In the first one, I advised NHL general managers to be careful about throwing big money at Kovalchuk. I followed that up with early speculation on where the talented but pricey left wing might land. With NHL free agent mania just one day ahead, I thought I’d take another look at which teams seem like logical choices for the Russian goal scoring machine.

Naturally, once the events open up at noon ET on Thursday, this post could end up looking really dumb. You never know with this crazy, money-spending league.

I’m going to keep the salary cap in mind with this post, but it’s important to note that NHL teams don’t need to be under the cap right away. They have much of the summer to go over a little bit, although obviously that will force their hands with waiver moves and salary dump trades.

Still, I want to keep this within the realm of reason, so teams such as the Penguins and Blackhawks will be left out. I think the Devils are out of the running, too, thanks to the Jason Arnott trade. The Colorado Avalanche have the space for a big move, but they are also out of the Kovalchuk sweepstakes according to Adrian Dater. My guess is that the budget-conscious Anaheim Ducks will re-sign Bobby Ryan instead of going after Kovalchuk.

Anyway, with all that out of the way, here are some of the most sensible destinations for the gem of this year’s free agent crop.

KHL – My guess is that if all things were equal (and by things I, of course, mean money), Kovalchuk would stay in the NHL. Still, the KHL doesn’t have a salary cap and has some tax-related perks too. Which means, in other words, the foreign league could throw a crazy deal Kovalchuk’s way.

1. Los Angeles Kings – The Kings are in a big market with beautiful weather and … oh yeah, they have a pretty good team as well. Los Angeles is well-stocked with young talent (Drew Doughty is almost insultingly skilled) but could use a forward deep in his prime. As long as the Kings are wise with the amount of years they offer, this could be the ideal match for Kovy.

2. St. Louis Blues – As of this time, the Blues have the most cap space in the NHL according to CapGeek.com. That will change if they sign restricted free agents Erik Johnson and Jaroslav Halak, but with more than $32 million they could still afford Kovalchuk. But would he want to play in still-building St. Louis? And do the Blues want to make such a big investment in a transition period?

After the jump, some suitors who have a chance (but a slimmer chance) to land the Russian sniper.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kovalchukkhl.jpg3. Vancouver Canucks – This would be a tighter fit, but it makes
sense in some ways. Kovalchuk might not fit in with a team that grinds
it out so much (even the whipped-cream-soft Sedin twins tend to wear
opponents out in their own way with their patented cycle). Then again,
his world-class hands don’t fit in with that team either, with all
apologies to the surprisingly potent Mikael Samuelsson. Kovalchuk could
be the missing piece for the Canucks, but it would take a salary cap
Houdini act to fill out their roster.

4. New York Islanders – Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do in
Long Island. Still, the Islanders are just a few bucks behind St. Louis
but don’t really have any big free agents. Of course, there’s a reason
for that; the time barely has any NHL players to begin with.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs – I’m not sure the money makes complete
sense, but never – ever – count Brian Burke out of a big deal. My
bet is that the bombastic GM only enters swimming pools by way of the
cannon ball.

So, those are the five teams I’d say are the most likely to land the
big-ticket item of this summer (plus the KHL, obviously). If I had to
wager on it, I’d pick the Kings or the KHL. Like I said before, though,
you never know with the NHL. Logic flies out the window on July 1.

Penguins avoid collapse, beat Preds in crazy Stanley Cup Final opener

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PITTSBURGH — The game of hockey can be crazy at times.

Then you have nights like Monday, when it gets really crazy.

In a game that often made no sense at all, the Penguins built up a 3-0 lead, blew that lead, then rallied late to beat Nashville 5-3 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

So, uh, where to even begin with this?

Let’s start with the game-winner. Jake Guentzel, who was on the verge of being a healthy scratch for tonight’s affair, scored with less than four minutes remaining to snap an eight-game goalless drought.

Now, consider the circumstances under which this goal was scored.

Guentzel was facing tremendous pressure to get his offense going. And the shot he scored on was Pittsburgh’s first in 37 minutes of action. During that time, the Pens recorded the first zero-shot playoff period since NHL began tracking SOG in 1957-58.

Guentzel’s goal also came after Nashville had staged a furious, wild three-goal rally to even things up.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissions and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Preds, with Sissions and Gaudreau finding the back of the net less than four minutes apart in the final frame. Gaudreau, who up until a few weeks ago was playing in the Calder Cup playoffs, looked as though he was primed to become the next unlikely postseason hero.

But it wasn’t to be.

Because there were other equally unlikely developments on the night.

Heck, we haven’t discussed the first period yet. Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino scored in a span of 4:11 in the opening frame, a flurry filled with fortuitous bounces and breaks. Malkin’s tally came on a 5-on-3 man advantage, after Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal were whistled for simultaneous penalties. Bonino’s marker was an own goal, knocked in by Preds d-man Mattias Ekholm.

Oh, and there was that disallowed marker.

Perhaps you heard? It was an ignominious start for the NHL on its biggest stage. Seven minutes in, the Preds looked to have taken a 1-0 lead when P.K. Subban‘s blast beat Matt Murray. But hold on. Pens head coach Mike Sullivan quickly challenged and, upon review, it was deemed that Filip Forsberg entered the Pittsburgh zone illegally.

More, from the NHL’s situation room blog:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesmen, NHL Hockey Operations staff determined that Forsberg preceded the puck into the attacking zone, nor did he have possession and control before crossing the blue line.

This ruling came just hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman defended offside challenges in his state-of-the-league address.

Crazy is right. And fitting, given what transpired tonight.

Video: Guentzel, Penguins regain lead after 37-minute shot drought

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Luck keeps going the Pittsburgh Penguins’ way in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Nashville Predators kept firing away at Matt Murray, holding the Penguins without a shot on goal for a whopping 37 minutes and managing to tie the contest 3-3 after falling behind 3-0.

It was a ridiculous display … and then Pittsburgh got its next shot.

Jake Guentzel scored on that attempt, roofing it past a struggling Pekka Rinne. It’s the sort of thing you can’t even dream up.

Pittsburgh also added an empty-net goal, so Nashville needs an epic final 30 seconds if they hope to avoid a crushing Game 1 loss.

Predators hold Penguins without a shot in second, now down 3-1 in Game 1

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There’s little sense denying the Pittsburgh Penguins’ luck through 40 minutes against the Nashville Predators in Game 1.

Through the first period, some favorable calls and a lucky bounce or two helped Pittsburgh generate a stunning 3-0 lead. Pittsburgh ended the opening frame with a burst of activity after a strong start to the Stanley Cup Final by Nashville.

The Predators regained their composure and confidence in the second, resulting in a dominant display on the ice (if not on the scoreboard).

The Penguins only managed couldn’t even manage a single, measly shot on goal against Pekka Rinne during the middle frame, but unfortunately for Nashville, some dominant puck possession only resulted in a goal by Ryan Ellis.

A 3-1 deficit is digestible, if frustrating, for Nashville. We’ll see if they can get back into Game 1 in the third period.

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Video: Calls go Penguins’ way early in Game 1; own goal plagues Predators

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However you feel about the context of each call, it’s tough to deny that some big decisions ended up going favorably early for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

To start, a would-be 1-0 goal by P.K. Subban was waved off thanks to Filip Forsberg being deemed offside. More on that here.

In a rare span, the Predators were whistled for two penalties during the same sequence in the first period, giving the Penguins a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes. Pittsburgh started off the advantage a little rocky, but then Evgeni Malkin made it 1-0. (Video of that tally in the headline above.)

The controversy comes as Sidney Crosby seemed to get away with interference/elbow shortly before that goal was scored. That sequence will feed a conspiracy theory or two.

The Predators have managed to avoid tough stretches for much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but things seemed to really escalate from there. The Penguins managed three goals in a staggering 4:11 of game time, with Nick Bonino putting a puck off Mattias Ekholm for a painful own goal, making it 3-0 as the first period concluded.

The Penguins seemed to take control of the game after that disallowed goal, adding to the argument that some combination of the decision and the slowdown helped turn the tide.

How will the Predators respond to this adversity in Game 1? Find out on NBC and via the stream below.

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