Anton Volchenkov's first choice wasn't New Jersey

volchenkovzajac.jpgThe twists and turns of NHL free agency are a wicked and creative soap opera on their own, but it’s interesting to hear from players what might’ve been had things shaken out differently. For instance, take the case of new Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov. Believe it or not, the Devils weren’t his first choice this offseason as Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger tells us.

The hard-hitting defenseman, signed as an unrestricted free agent July 1, would have preferred to stay with the Ottawa Senators.

“I would have liked to stay in Ottawa. My next choice was to find a good place for me,” Volchenkov said today as he visited the Prudential Center.

So why didn’t he re-sign with the Senators?

“They made me an offer, not good enough,” Volchenkov said. “That’s why I didn’t sign with Ottawa.”

Struggling just a bit with his English, he said he had offers from a couple of different teams.

It’s not terribly surprising that Volchenkov’s first choice was Ottawa, after all it’s where he’d spent his entire career up until now. Once former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar got an offer from the Senators he couldn’t refuse, there wasn’t really room for Volchenkov in Ottawa. Once the Penguins snagged former Devils defenseman Paul Martin, the vacancy in New Jersey made the Devils a relatively easy choice. What also made the Devils an easy choice for one the league’s best defensive defensemen is the brand of hockey played in New Jersey.

“This is a really good defensive team,” he said. “They always play in the playoffs. They always play hard. They’re a very exciting team.”

Some folks might still quip about that last line, but any team boasting Zach Parise can’t be all too dull. And if they got Ilya Kovalchuk back in the fold they’d be even more exciting. Say, didn’t Volchenkov play with Kovalchuk in international hockey? Any chance he’s tried to help pull strings there?

He said he hopes Ilya Kovalchuk signs with the Devils, but hasn’t tried to influence the left winger.

“It’s (been) interesting. I’d be happy if he signed here,” Volchenkov said. “He’s a good player. It’s not my decision. It’s a decision for him.”

So much for that possibility. Volchenkov’s fit in New Jersey really is ideal and given that they also added Henrik Tallinder to help them move the puck as well, losing Paul Martin won’t hurt the Devils quite so much and they added better depth on defense. All things work out for a reason and in this case, for the Devils, it works out perfect.

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    Agent: Numerous Stanley Cup contenders have called on Kunitz

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    Chris Kunitz is in demand.

    That’s the word from agent Ben Hankinson, who this week told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette his 37-year-old client is garnering major interest from a number of teams — and certain kinds of teams, to be clear.

    More:

    Hankinson, who represents Kunitz, said he’s fielded calls from as many as 10 teams with a legitimate shot at knocking off the Penguins next season, all interested in signing Kunitz.

    “I don’t know where it’s going to end up,” Hankinson said. “Chris does have interest from a lot of teams. Who knows exactly where that interest is going to be once the offers start flying around, but he does have a lot of interest.”

    Kunitz, who turns 38 in September, has been told by GM Jim Rutherford to explore free agency (to be fair, Rutherford told all his UFAs this). It’s going to be really interesting what that means for Kunitz, who could bring plenty to a team looking to make a postseason run.

    For starters, there’s his experience. Few active NHLers have played — and won — in the playoffs as much as Kunitz. He’s got 161 games on his resume with four Stanley Cups, and was a key contributor for Pittsburgh this past spring.

    In 20 games, Kunitz racked up 11 points while averaging 14:52 TOI per night. His nine assists put him tied for fourth on the team, and he famously scored the double-OT winner against Ottawa in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

    Given the lack of options in this year’s free agent class, Kunitz could score a pretty decent contract. That’s important, as it might be his last. The cagey veteran spoke at the Stanley Cup Final about how this could very well be his last kick at the can with Pittsburgh, and acknowledged that — given how limited opportunities are to win in the NHL — he needed to capitalize on every single one.

    “We’ve been together for so long,” Kunitz said. “Our families are close, the kids are getting older and you realize that we’ve been really fortunate to have this great group of guys that have stuck together for so long. It’s rare to have guys stay for that long.

    “So you just want to capitalize and make the most of it. [We’ve] all gone out for dinner together before the trade deadline, never knowing where your hockey career’s going to go. It’s something you put into your mind, but you’ve got to go out there and achieve your success every time you can.”

    Report: Kovalchuk talking extension with KHL club

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    Last week, Devils GM Ray Shero was of the belief that Ilya Kovalchuk was still planning to play in the NHL next season.

    Today, however, a Russian media outlet is reporting that Kovalchuk is talking with his KHL club, SKA Saint Petersburg, about a possible extension.

    If accurate, that would mesh with an earlier report — the one that Shero ostensibly shot down — that Kovalchuk had decided to keep playing in Russia.

    The NHL’s decision to skip the 2018 Winter Olympics may be weighing on Kovalchuk. If he returns to North America, he won’t be able to represent his country in South Korea — a fact that was cemented last week when the NHL released its 2017-18 schedule.

    Of course, all this could just be SKA Saint Petersburg making a last-ditch attempt to keep Kovalchuk.

    “We have the desire to keep Ilya. He is our hockey player, a patriot and loves to play for the national team,” said club president Gennady Timchenko (translated, per Sportsnet). “We will talk today, and we might have some news later.”

    Kovalchuk can’t sign an NHL contract until July 1.

    Sens’ Stalberg drawing interest from Swiss League

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    Viktor Stalberg, the veteran forward that was part of Ottawa’s recent playoff run, has reportedly landed on the radar of National League A outfit EV Zug.

    Per Swiss Hockey News, club manager Reto Klay confirmed interest in Stalberg, saying he is “among the candidates” to be signed by the team this summer.

    Stalberg, 31, split last season between the ‘Canes and Sens, combining to score 11 goals and 16 points in 57 games. He’s previously spent time with the Rangers, Predators, Blackhawks and Maple Leafs, recording a career-high 22 goals and 43 points with Chicago in ’11-12.

    He was also part of the ‘Hawks team that captured the Stanley Cup in 2013.

    Stalberg has played each of the last two seasons on one-year deals, and it’ll be interesting to see if he lands another one — or, potentially, try and secure a longer-term deal overseas.

    Former Oilers tough guy Dave Semenko passes away from cancer

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    Former Edmonton Oilers forward Dave Semenko has passed away after a short battle with cancer. Semenko was 59 years old.

    The Oilers released a statement earlier this morning:

    It is with great sadness we announce the passing of Oilers legend Dave Semenko after a short, but courageous battle with cancer. Dave will be remembered as a fierce competitor, loyal teammate, fan favorite and dear friend to so many. His legendary toughness on the ice is surpassed only by his kindness and caring for others, and his equally legendary wit and sense of humor.

    Our hearts go out to Dave’s family and many friends.

    Once an Oiler, Always an Oiler

    Semenko played for the Oilers for parts of 10 seasons (two in the WHA, eight in the NHL). He also had short stints in Hartford and Toronto.

    He finished his NHL career with 65 goals, 153 points and 1,175 penalty minutes in 575 games. Semenko also won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1984 and 1985.