Lebron James, Ilya Kovalchuk make us wait, but Kovalchuk might want to change course

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lebron.jpgWhile July 1 was “Lebron James Day” for many sports fans, hockey-crazed people thought they’d finally get some answers about the NHL’s big free agent fish Ilya Kovalchuk. Thursday was supposed to be a day of closure regarding the two soon-to-be-huge-earners, but both basketball and hockey fans will have to wait to see the end of all the speculation.

The two players have quite a bit in common, although Lebron James has had far more success in the playoffs and Kovalchuk isn’t generally considered to be at the top of the NHL ladder (although some might say he’s just behind Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby). They both bring a unique set of offensive skills to the table, each player rejected offers to stay with the teams who drafted them* and people often make excuses when they lose based on the quality of their teammates.

* – Of course, Lebron might actually return to the Cleveland Cavaliers while the odds of Kovalchuk returning to the Atlanta Thrashers hover around zero percent.

James seems to have the NBA world at his fingertips, with plenty of options on where he’d like to land and whom he wishes to play with. Kovalchuk, on the other hand, seems like he’s in a cat-and-mouse game with the Los Angeles Kings being by far the most viable suitor outside of the KHL. While insiders point to market size, quality of teammates and perhaps even desirable climates when talking about factors in Lebron’s decision, many feel that money is the main sticking point for Kovalchuk and Kings GM Dean Lombardi.

Helene Elliott paints a not-so-promising picture regarding the Kings’ negotiations with the Russian left wing.

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They have the resources and cap space and face little competition for the two-time 50-goal scorer. But they didn’t reach an agreement Thursday and General Manager Dean Lombardi, through a team spokesman, declined to comment on the state of the talks.

Word from various corners of the hockey universe was that Kovalchuk is aiming high – think $10 million a year for 10 to 12 years – and the Kings are uncomfortable with that. The deal isn’t dead, but its pulse could be less than robust. The New Jersey Devils might be hovering, ready to remind Kovalchuk that travel in the East is less taxing on the body and worth taking a slightly lower payday.

It all comes down to priorities with Kovalchuk. He needs to answer some tough questions, such as “Do I really want to play in the NHL or just make the biggest impact possible on my bank account?” and “Can I accept the fact that playing for a contender often means taking less money?”

I’ve already written that Kovalchuk isn’t worthy of a big pay raise and I think the first day of contract talks reveals that to be a league-wide sentiment. There is no doubt that he’s talented and steadily put up big goal totals. Yet who is going to give a $100 million contract to a player who – either because of a lack of quality teammates, his own shortcomings or a combination of the two – never really won anything or even excelled on a big stage?

While Lebron James can keep his head in the clouds and continue to picture decadent dream sequences in which he gets to have his basketball cake and eat it too, Kovalchuk might want to keep his feet on the ground before visions of a big payday turn into a hockey nightmare.

Kings place Ehrhoff on waivers

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Christian Ehrhoff #10 of the Los Angeles Kings head for the piuck during the first period at Staples Center on December 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Kings have placed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on waivers, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

A veteran of almost 800 NHL games, Ehrhoff has not fit well with Los Angeles after signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal in August. The 33-year-old has just 11 points in 40 games and is a team-worst minus-10. Though he had two assists in last night’s 9-2 win over the Bruins, he also took a careless tripping penalty in the first period that led to a Boston goal.

In a related story, the Kings are rumored to be looking for help on the back end. In fact, they were reportedly quite interested in Dustin Byfuglien, before he re-signed with the Jets.

According to Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider, 23-year-old defenseman Kevin Gravel is “on the verge of a recall” from AHL Ontario.

The Kings play Thursday in Brooklyn.

Report: Kadri’s throat-slashing gesture being reviewed by NHL

Nazem Kadri
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Nazem Kadri‘s throat-slashing gesture is under review by the NHL, according to TSN.ca.

The Maple Leafs forward made the gesture while sitting on Toronto’s bench last night in Calgary, moments after he was laid out by Flames captain Mark Giordano.

The NHL first started cracking down on the throat-slashing gesture in 2000. Former NHLer Nick Boyton was suspended twice for making the gesture, first in 2006 then again in 2010. He was banned one game for each incident.

Fix coming? Blues activate Schwartz after 49-game absence

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After Tuesday’s loss to the Jets — the Blues’ fourth in their last six games — head coach Ken Hitchcock said his club has “got to play harder than this” and “got to compete at a lot higher level than this.”

He then added “it’s up to us to fix it.”

Well, help is on the way.

On Wednesday, the Blues activated forward Jaden Schwartz off injured reserve, after he missed the last 49 contests with a fractured left ankle. Schwartz is expected to be in the lineup on Friday when the Blues take on the Panthers in Florida.

The 23-year-old should provide an immediate boost to the lineup. Schwartz had four points in seven games before getting hurt, and that came on the heels of a successful ’14-15 campaign in which he posted career highs in goals (28) and points (63).

The Blues’ first-round pick in 2010 (14th overall), Schwartz is a 17-18 TOI per night guy, so he’ll be a big presence almost immediately. His return also inches the team back to full health, though there’s still a ways to go — Alex Pietrangelo and Jake Allen are still week-to-week with knee and lower-body injuries, while Steve Ott is out until late February following hamstrings surgery.

Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made

‘Very upset’ Jokinen blasts NHL’s handling of Abdelkader-Barkov hit

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You can add Jussi Jokinen to the list of Florida Panthers livid with Justin Abdelkader‘s hit on Aleksander Barkov.

“I’m very upset,” Jokinen said, per the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don’t know if I’m too emotional because that’s my best friend on the team. It looked really dangerous.”

Barkov was knocked woozy by a big Abdelkader check during Detroit’s 3-0 win over the Panthers on Monday. The hit forced the young Finn from the game, and also forced him to miss yesterday’s contest in Buffalo.

Abdelkader wasn’t fined or suspended for the hit and, according to the Sun-Sentinel, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety didn’t contact him at all.

It’s also worth pointing out that Abdelkader wasn’t penalized at the time of the incident.

But that didn’t stop Nick Bjugstad and head coach Gerard Gallant from calling the hit “cheap,” with Gallant suggesting Abdelkader left his feet to make the hit, and caught Barkov in the jaw.

Jokinen put the onus on the league to wipe out checks of this nature.

“There are too many hits like that an no suspensions,” he explained. “Fans want to watch Barkov, not those guys. The league has to do a better job of taking those hits out of the game.”

Florida and Detroit next play on Mar. 19, in case you’re wondering.