Is Ilya Kovalchuk holding out for a deal that trumps Alex Ovechkin's contract?

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alexoandkovytogether.jpgWhen Alex Ovechkin was entering the league as a rookie, I thought it was unfair when people compared him to Ilya Kovalchuk. Ultimately, the comparisons weren’t fair … to Ilya.

At this point, you’d have to be Kovalchuk, one of his family members or maybe his agent to think that he is on the same rung of the NHL superstar ladder as Ovechkin. While Alex O has hit the 100-plus point mark in three of his four NHL seasons, Kovalchuk never eclipsed triple digits in his career. Even beyond scoring points, Ovechkin is a physically intimidating force while Kovalchuk tends to linger around the perimeter. When you also consider the fact that Ovechkin is a charming – if uneven – media darling, then the gulf between the two Russian snipers is considerable.

Yet, at least according to some, Kovalchuk still seems to think he’s in Ovechkin’s class. Some even think that he’s holding out for a contract that will pay him more than his fellow countryman and friendly rival. Here’s more from Puck Daddy yesterday.

The more you think about Kovalchuk and Ovechkin’s $124 million, 13-year contract with the Washington Capitals, the more it seems to fit with his behavior this summer.

The oft-quoted $100 million figure seemed like a mandatory benchmark for Kovalchuk, and Ovechkin got nine figures. The oft-quoted $10 million annually he’s allegedly asked for, at least at the front end of the contract, would eclipse Ovechkin’s salary. The KHL escape pod hasn’t been activated, perhaps because Ovechkin’s in the NHL until 2021 (when he’ll make $10 million as a base salary, by the way).

What about the long-term aspect of his demands? Playing Hockey Freud for a moment, it could be because Ovechkin became a franchise player for the Capitals, turned their fortunes around and has been celebrated for doing so. He didn’t go hockey mercenary like some teams want Kovalchuk to go.

Even going beyond Ovechkin’s clear superiority over Kovalchuk, let’s not forget one big fact. Most of the players who sign those crazy-huge lifetime contracts do so with the teams who drafted them. It’s not just a matter of personal pride because you could say that a given team had always planned to devote a significant amount of salary to that player. Kovalchuk is asking for huge, unplanned-for money from a) the Devils a team he played a month of hockey with or b) the Kings, a team that barely even saw him since he spent his career on a mediocre team in another conference or c) a team playing in Russia.

I’ve written about this before, but Kovalchuk got his chance for a luxurious and bloated contract when Atlanta tried to lock him up long-term. Since all the details we’ve heard about are fuzzy at best, it’s hasty to call Kovalchuk greedy without knowing all the numbers.

Still, you have to wonder if he’s being a little delusional. Sorry, Ilya, but if you want to get paid more than your buddy Alex you’ll need to be better than him. If this whole thing was about besting Ovechkin then Kovalchuk may never get his way.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist
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DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.