Catching up with Kovalchuk

russiakovalchuk.jpgIt’s only fair that the most interesting free agent in the world (thanks crafty Mexican beer ad) Ilya Kovalchuk gets his own update to get everyone filled in on the daily roller coaster that is the Kovalchuk rumor mill and speculation palace.

It started earlier today with a report from Russia saying that the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg was “close” to a deal with the high-scoring left wing. As it turns out, as it usually has gone since free agent madness began seven days ago, there was nothing to that report and Kovalchuk wasn’t close to anything with the KHL team, mostly because they were busy signing former Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

Shortly after it was announced that Nabokov was heading to Russia, word came from Helene Thomas of the LA Times via Twitter that the Kings were “re-engaged” in talks with Ilya Kovalchuk. The Kings getting involved once again with Kovalchuk is interesting because Kings GM Dean Lombardi had very clearly proclaimed to Rich Hammond of the Kings Insider that the Kings were not a choice for Kovalchuk anymore.

Tonight, some of the talk surrounding the Kovalchuk negotiations is surrounding a darker storyline in this whole situation and one that’s not exactly under the control of either Kovalchuk or the general managers he’s negotiating with: The expiration of the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Helene Thomas mentions it briefly in her wrap on things for the day at the LA Times.

Lombardi must also factor in the possibility that the salary cap will decrease under a new collective bargaining agreement and that giving Kovalchuk a salary that would create a large cap hit will impede the Kings’ ability to keep their core players. The current labor deal between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Assn. expires after the 2011-12 season and owners could push to lower the cap, which will stand at $59.4 million next season.

I don’t think many folks have been keeping this in mind because, let’s face it, we’ve all got mental scars from having these two sides botch things up five years ago to the point where they got an entire season canceled. Out of sight and out of mind works for everyone… Except for one of the better executives in the league in Dean Lombardi. The New York Post’s Larry Brooks, a rather huge supporter of the NHL Players Association in his own right, gets even more doom and gloom on Twitter about a possible labor disruption in two years and even dishes his own rumor as to what the Kings are offering Kovalchuk.

Reliable Source: Kings have offered Kovalchuk 12-year deal for AAV of $5.3M. Not going to happen. Might open door for short-term options.

The problem there is that Kovalchuk has supposedly wanted to get a long-term deal done. Sigh. I know this is all head-spinning and potentially gloomy stuff, but we can all take a breath and just relax in knowing that at least Kovalchuk isn’t getting an hour dedicated to him on cable to talk about where he’ll end up signing. After all, it’s safe to say that those of us writing about this ad nauseum and fans of the Devils and Kings and elsewhere are probably the people most worked up about everything. Sit back, relax and enjoy the non-stop public negotiating because we’re not likely to see something like this again in the NHL.

Fabbri primed to make Blues in significant role

Jason Demers, Robby Fabbri
AP Photo
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With the start of the regular season just around the corner, it looks like Robby Fabbri will not only make his NHL debut on Thursday, but also get meaningful minutes.

During Sunday’s practice the 19-year-old forward played alongside Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. Nothing is set in stone, but that combination did gel.

“I think we want to look at what the combinations look like now rather than do it at the start of the season,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re looking at a hard match line and we’re also looking at taking advantage of speed and skill off the rush.

“I really liked what I saw today. I really liked Lehtera’s line, they looked very dynamic off the rush.”

The top line of Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, and Vladimir Tarasenko seems like a good bet to play together for the time being. Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz will stick together on the second line while Dmitrij Jaskin and David Backes can expect to be regular partners on the third unit. The X-factors will be Fabbri and Troy Brouwer as Hitchcock has left the door open to alternating between the two of them on the second and third line depending on the opponent.

Fabbri was taken with the 21st overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and is looking to make the leap after a brief stint in the AHL last season. At the OHL level, he’s been a dominate force with the Guelph Storm, scoring 25 goals and 51 points in 30 games in 2014-15.

Panarin impresses ‘Hawks with his preseason debut

Artemi Panarin
AP Photo

Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.

Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.

“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.

The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.

Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.