Gary Bettman will not be in attendance for Kovalchuk contract hearing

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Thumbnail image for 1-bettman.jpgI know the headline of this post is going to freak some people out and wonder just what the heck is going on with the NHL. Don’t worry, there’s actually a good reason why NHL commissioner Gary Bettman won’t be in attendance today at the Ilya Kovalchuk contract grievance hearing in Boston. Tom Gulitti from Fire & Ice fills us in.

Although the hearing to decide the fate of Ilya Kovlachuk’s rejected contract with the Devils is likely to have league-wide ramifications, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will not be attending–at least not the first day.

While the grievance hearing gets underway Wednesday in Boston, Bettman will be in Calgary to attend a news conference promoting the Heritage Classic outdoor game between the Flames and Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium. The news conference begins at 5 p.m. Eastern Time. The Flames and Canadiens will face-off at McMahon Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 20.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly is expected to attend the Kovalchuk hearing in Boston and Kovalchuk reportedly put off his trip home to Russia to attend the proceedings.

League business does march on after all and not having the commissioner in attendance at the Heritage Classic press conference would likely not help the opinion of Commissioner Bettman in Canada. After all, a lot of Canadians feel like Bettman dislikes Canada because he’s stood watch while teams have moved out of Canada to America.

That said, perhaps postponing the Heritage Classic press conference until next week might’ve been a good idea. This grievance over Kovalchuk’s stunning 17-year, $102 million contract is a landmark case for the NHL and kind of a big deal. I know that Bill Daly does a great job when Bettman is unavailable for action, but this is a huge deal and more than worthy of the commissioner’s direct attention. After all, Kovalchuk did put aside seeing his family to make sure to tend to business. Maybe he’ll win bonus points with systems arbitrator Richard Bloch for it.

Maybe my problem is in overstating the worth of this hearing, but what goes down here will go a long way towards how things shake out in 2012 come collective bargaining negotiations. This case is the one that will be held up on both sides as to why the system works great or it fails miserably. As to which side says what remains to be seen.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

Their struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.