On Monday July 19, it seemed like a lengthy hockey nightmare was over. That day seemingly marked the end of the Ilya Kovalchuk Holding Pattern Era and the continuation of the Kovalchuk-Devils pact. Of course, you should know that the league said “hold on a second” and rejected his contract at this point.
The NHL Players’ Association has until 5 p.m. Monday to file a grievance on behalf of Ilya Kovalchuk for the NHL rejecting his 17-year, $102 million contract with the Devils for salary cap circumvention.
All indications are that the NHLPA will file the grievance before Monday’s deadline after its lawyers conducted a thorough study of the facts, including interviewing all the parties involved in the contract negotiations. The delay the last two days was likely due to the union waiting through the weekend before officially filing the paperwork.
After the grievance is filed, the NHL and the NHLPA must hire a “system” arbitrator to rule on the case. Both sides must agree on the arbitrator. I was among those who speculated that the process could take weeks, but the NHLPA will want to expedite the search so that Kovalchuk will not be in limbo too much longer as far as where he will play in 2010-11. So, if the NHL drags its feet, it will be quite obvious.
Keep in mind that the league and the NHLPA must agree on an independent arbitrator, a process some expect to take weeks. Once that is finally settled upon, the arbitrator has two days (48 hours) to rule on the validity of the contract.
Need a quick review of the possible scenarios? Consider this your Ilya Kovalchuk “Choose your own adventure” game.
1. The arbitrator upholds the rejection – Kovalchuk would become an unrestricted free agent again, giving him the choice of restructuring his contract with the Devils or going with a different team. Both the Kings and – according to Gulitti – the KHL have expressed interest in Kovalchuk if he went back on the market.
2. The arbitrator validates the contract – the league would be forced to approve the contract right away.
3. The Devils could restructure the original contract before the grievance, but Gulitti and many others say that probably won’t happen.
4. If the NHLPA doesn’t file a grievance, then Kovalchuk would become an unrestricted free agent again.
OK, so those are the possibilities. What does this mean to you? Well, if you’re bored out of your mind sitting in a cubicle (or a basement or your evil lair/mansion), then you can count on an official word about a grievance – or lack thereof – today. We’ll be on top of it today at PHT.
The Flames haven’t won a game since, dropping five in a row by a soul-crushing cumulative differential of 25-7. Their closest losses were by three goals. Woof.
Calgary now sits at 80 points with only six games remaining, all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. (The second West wild-card team, as of this writing, is the Ducks at 89 points, and they hold a game in hand on the Flames. Woof again.)
Maybe it was already too late for the Flames when Smith shut out the Oil, but this five-game flop really buried any long-shot hopes. Now, Calgary must close out the season and ponder what to change during a summer that will demand serious soul-searching.
[everyone cheering about their respected teams heading to the post-season]
Losing Smith for a lengthy, crucial stretch for about a month (13 games) struck a brutal blow to a team that sometimes asked him to clean up some significant mistakes.
That said, overall, the Flames pass the sniff test as far as possession metrics go. This team simply hasn’t been able to finish enough chances despite often hogging the puck, to the point that it’s become an uncomfortable refrain for fans and media alike.
Q: What does a bounce and an arena have in common?
Via Natural Stat Trick’s measures, the Flames’ 6.87 shooting percentage at even-strength ranks among the bottom five in the NHL. That’s not an end-all, be-all stat, yet consider that the bottom eight teams look all but assured to miss the playoffs.
CGY’s SH% in all game states (meaning PP ad ES) this month is 5.4%. Bonkers.
They’ve been struggling on special teams, too, as their 16.6 percent success rate ranks fifth-worst in the NHL. Allowing seven shorthanded goals only pours more salt in their wounds. The power play’s been especially miserable lately, only converting one time since Feb. 27 (1-for-37).
Not enough support
On paper, the Flames seem like they should at least be a playoff team, if not a legitimate contender.
Such struggles would be easier to stomach if certain forwards panned out. It’s difficult not to pick on Sam Bennett, the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, who is stuck at 26 points in 76 games after failing to score a goal or an assist for the last seven games.
Whether you pin it on Father Time, untimely injuries, or other factors, the Jaromir Jagr experiment was also a bust.
The Flames have done a lot right in building this team.
Aside from Tkachuk (whose rookie deal expires after 2018-19), the Flames have their core members locked up long-term. In the case of someone like Gaudreau, they’re getting a star player at a bargain rate of $6.75M through 2021-22.
Still, Smith is 36, and maybe more alarmingly, Giordano is already 34.
With aging-but-important players like those, you never know when the bottom might fall out and the window really closes. It’s easy to picture Calgary figuring a few things out – do they make trades, a key signing, maybe a coaching change? – and become as deadly on the ice as they are in some of our imaginations.
None of this erases the bitter taste of failure for the team and its fans, though.
WINNIPEG — The gloves came off at Winnipeg Jets practice on Saturday.
A small scuffle that involved a couple of Jets players ensued after a point shot was taken by Blake Wheeler during a drill. That melee turned into fists being tossed between Wheeler and Jets defensemen Ben Chiarot, with Wheeler being sent to the dressing room by coach Paul Maurice after the fight broke up.
“It’s just boys being boys,” said Chiarot, who had a small cut on his nose after practice. “Tempers get up. Intensity in practice is always a good thing and that’s something we’re trying to bring here before the playoffs. I look at it as a good thing.”
🎥 Ben Chiarot speaks on the intensity in today’s practice, the team’s versatility this season, and more. pic.twitter.com/PEBgRF5uVq
Paul Maurice watched the fracas from center ice but didn’t say anything until Wheeler’s glove’s game off, at which point he yelled for the pair to stop.
“You’d like a few more of those during the year if you could,” Maurice said after practice.
When pressed as to why, Maurice spoke of keeping the intensity level high throughout the season.
“Our theory in how we practice is really short, as fast as we can, a full-contact sport,” Maurice said. “In the games, somebody gets an elbow up, somebody gets a piece of someone that happens and occasionally in practice that’s going to happen. It’s all good.”
Jets forward Adam Lowry said players were already moved on to the joking phase following the altercation.
“They might be mad at each other for 10 minutes, but you don’t expect a grudge to be held too long,” Lowry said. “I’m sure (by Sunday), they’ll be laughing about it.”
Asked if there would be any repercussions for either player, Maurice shared a joke.
“There will be no family meeting tomorrow,” he said.
I’d be open to suggestions, but you’d be hard-pressed to show me another rookie having a more impressive season than Connor is that is also seemingly flying under the radar in the National Hockey League.
Up until about week ago, no one outside of Winnipeg was talking about the former Hobey Baker runner-up. And there’s a good reason for that given that Laine was doing things that, historically, no teenager had ever done.
“Everything goes under the radar when you play for Winnipeg,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler this past Tuesday. “He’s been one of the huge X-factors for our team. Him stepping into our lineup and contributing at the rate he’s contributed at, it’s a huge reason why we sit where we are today. He was a got that you had high hopes for coming into the year, but obviously a little bit of a question mark. You didn’t really know what you were going to get. He’s taken the opportunity that he’s got this year and done a great job.”
Connor, like he has all season, just carried on working in the shadows of others. Piling up the goals until there was no choice but to take notice at what he’s doing.
Connor’s 28 goals are just one goal back of Brock Boeser for the rookie goal-scoring lead, something that Connor should surpass before the end of the season given his recent success in that department. He’s second the Jets with five game-winners.
“It’s nice to have the coach have confidence in you,” Connor said. “To be able to go out there and try to make something happen and get a chance for game-winnernner.”
Connor is picking up 1.8 primary points per 60 minutes played and his goals-per-60 is sitting at 1.3.
He also has a little streak going for himself, with two overtime goals in the Jets past two games, becoming the second rookie ever to accomplish the quirky feat.
And he’s done so by using his speed to create space for himself in open ice.
There’s not much of a case to be made for Connor and the Calder — that belongs to Mathew Barzal. But Connor should be in the conversation, if only for the recognition of what he’s done.
Unlike the Barzals, the Boesers and the Kellers and the Gourdes, Connor didn’t begin the season with the big club. Instead, the 21-year-old former Michigan Wolverine didn’t make the grade for the opening day roster out of training camp. He was just mediocre. And with a team oozing with offensive talent, mediocre wasn’t going to cut it.
Connor, banished to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, played four games for the Jets farmhand, collecting three goals and five points, before his stay across the hall at Bell MTS Place came to an abrupt end.
Connor’s recalled came with a period spent playing with Bryan Little and Laine before he was promoted to the top line.
It hadn’t worked out with Laine or Nikolaj Ehlers on the top unit, and moving other pieces meant a cascading effect and a lot of line juggling. If Connor could fill in the void, the Jets could concentrate on getting their other three lines right.
So there was a chance and a challenge: prove he can keep up with the relentless pace of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler and you’ll stay right where you’re at.
Outside of a few hiccups — dropping down to the third and fourth lines at times — Connor has become an important piece on Winnipeg’s top line — a shifty player with a knack for finding enough space in front to get a quality scoring opportunity.
“He’s awesome. He’s gotten better and better as the season’s gone on,” Jets forward Mark Scheifele said after Connor’s game-winner on Friday. “He goes to the right spots. He battles hard in the corner, he goes to the right areas, he goes to the dirty areas. He does everything so well and obviously, his knack for scoring is top notch. He’s been really fun to play with this season. It’s exciting to see him grow like that.”
Connor has exploded for six goals in his past eight games, but it’s perhaps what he learned in an eight-game drought prior that’s played an important role in what he’s been doing lately.
“So, he’s played a lot of good games, but the game in Carolina, he doesn’t score, plays exceptionally well and I think he was really working hard all that stretch, he had that little block there where he wasn’t scoring,” Maurice said on Friday. “He seems to me that he’s relaxed a little bit when the puck is on his stick. Confidence for any player is such an important thing and can’t be given to anybody, you get one and then all the sudden you get that good feeling and then you attach that good feeling to some really good play. He’d been playing very, very well and not scoring, so he wasn’t very far off it and a little bit of confidence and away he goes.”
The only real pressure on Connor is what he puts on himself in Winnipeg. There’s enough heavy lifting happening, so Connor has had the freedom of figuring out his game and what works.
“Well, you can never be too comfortable in this league,” Connor said. “Something I learned through this year is you’ve got to bring it every day. You’ve got to prove yourself. I think I’m getting more confident every game I play but I don’t think I’m too comfortable. You come to the rink and you’ve got to prove yourself.”
Friday night was light as far as NHL action goes, with only 10 teams squaring off against one another. But it didn’t stop the plot from thickening in both conference’s playoff races.
New Jersey and St. Louis picked up big wins their respective conferences. The Devils put a three-point gap between themselves and the Florida Panthers, who still hold two games in hand over New Jersey. The Blues, meanwhile, moved to within one point of the final wildcard in the West and three points of the third-place Minnesota Wild in the Central Division.
Both teams are coming into the second game of back-to-backs on Saturday, and both need wins again, especially New Jersey as the Panthers play host to the lowly Arizona Coyotes.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
The Panthers still hold the keys to their own playoff fate in the East, and with the Devils in tough against a rested Tampa Bay Lightning team on Saturday, that gap could close to one after the night is over.
With the Boston Bruins idle, the Lightning will be looking to push their lead atop the Atlantic Division to six points. Boston will have two games in hand after the day is through. Columbus can move into second in the Metropolitan Division with a win, two points behind the Washington Capitals if the latter fails to pick up points against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Blues face their toughest test yet this season when they host the Blue Jackets, who have won 10 straight and are the NHL’s hottest team. Both teams have something to gain and, thus, something to lose in the matchup, but it’s the Blues who need the points more.
St. Louis is on even terms when it comes to games with the Colorado Avalanche, who hold the second wildcard in the West. The Avs don’t have it easy against the Vegas Golden Knights in a matinee affair on Saturday, but a loss by Colorado could give the Blues some extra motivation against Columbus.
The Sharks will look to tighten their grip on the second spot in the Pacific Division with a win coupled with a Los Angeles Kings loss to the Edmonton Oilers in Saturday’s late game.
Buffalo got some help in the race for the best chance at Rasmus Dahlin as there is now a three-point gap at the bottom.
Coyotes: 61 points in 74 games, 23 ROW
Canucks: 61 points in 75 GP, 26 ROW
Sabres: 58 points in 74 GP, 22 ROW
If the playoffs started today
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Anaheim Ducks
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
Golden Knights at Avalanche, 3 p.m. ET
Flames at Sharks, 4 p.m. ET
Red Wings at Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET
Capitals at Canadiens, 7 p.m. ET
Hurricanes at Senators, 7 p.m. ET
Coyotes at Panthers, 7 p.m. ET
Lightning at Devils, 7 p.m. ET
Blackhawks at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Sabres at Rangers, 7 p.m. ET
Blues at Jackets, 7 p.m. ET
Predators at Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Kings at Oilers, 10 p.m. ET