NHL wins contract grievance case against Ilya Kovalchuk; Kovalchuk a free agent once again

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kovalchuklouvanderbeek.jpgIn a stunning turn of events today, systems arbitrator Richard Bloch has handed down a stunning decision today, rejecting the NHLPA grievance against the NHL over Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102 million contract making Kovalchuk an unrestricted free agent once again.

In an unprecedented situation, the NHL has won the day and the question that hangs in the air here is: What sense does it make? Numerous other contracts have been crafted the same way as Kovalchuk’s contract with the Devils was yet his is the deal that gets bounced by the league. Picking when to start a fight and decide what’s good and what isn’t is the remarkable part of all this and the NHL may have picked a case where they stood to win in an easier battle than with other contracts. After all, the final four years of the now nullified deal with the Devils was set to earn Kovalchuk the league minimum all in an effort to drive his cap hit down. From a common sense perspective it looks like a clear means to get around the rules of business.

The problem here with common sense is that the law of the land in the NHL has deviated away from that previous to this one contract. Other deals see the money fall off the table towards the end of a contract in an effort to get the cap number reduced but those deals were approved by the league. What made this contract different? You have to suspect that the number of years in order to make it happen are a leading cause as there’s no other contract in the NHL as long as 17 years. Sure, there’s Rick DiPietro’s 15-year contract with the Islanders but at no point does the money disappear on it. That contract, by the books, is a straight-forward deal.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement on the proceedings today:

“We want to thank Arbitrator Bloch for his prompt resolution of a complex issue. His ruling is consistent with the League’s view of the manner in which the Collective Bargaining Agreement should deal with contracts that circumvent the Salary Cap.”

What’s next for the once-again-free-agent Ilya Kovalchuk is that he’ll most likely try to work out a new contract with the Devils that better fits the confines of the structure of previous deals that were completed and approved by the league previously. Whether this means Kovalchuk ends up taking less money or years or both remains to be seen. Using Marian Hossa’s contract with the Blackhawks would be a good starting point to reconstruct a deal. While Hossa’s deal stretched the CBA to the limits, it was still approved.

garybettman2.jpgIt’s also possible that the highly questionable years in Kovalchuk’s deal could be lopped off, thus making his cap hit a lot harder to take for the Devils. There’s also the possibility of tweaking the money so Kovalchuk isn’t making nearly the league minimum in the last four years of the deal. After all, Kovalchuk says he’s going to play that long and the Devils are willing to pay him for that long, putting your money where your mouth is is a good way to back that up.

Since he’s a free agent once again, it’s possible that the Los Angeles Kings could re-enter the bidding process given that their contract offer for the Russian superstar was something a bit more within the confines of what’s allowable in the NHL. Given the future labor ramifications this result in the hearing might have, it’s also possible that Kovalchuk just aims for a short-term deal with any team that might want to make a run for him knowing full-well that the NHLPA and the owners are going to be in for a labor blood war in 2012.

As for the Devils, there’s a possibility that they could be fined by the NHL or docked draft picks for circumventing the salary cap. Fines range up to as much as $5 million dollars and could be used against the salary cap itself so as to more effectively punish the team.

We’ll have more analysis on top of this as the night and the days progress, rest assured this is just the start of what figures to be a long and very ugly future as the league and the players union are concerned. For Ilya Kovalchuk, it’s back to square one as far as finding a new team to play for is concerned.

Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary (43) is greeted by teammates Brian Dumoulin (8) and Chris Kunitz (14) after scoring his first NHL goal, in the first period of the Penguins' hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Bruins' Brad Marchand is at lower right. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might look a little different in Game 2 on Saturday after that blistering Game 1.

As the team down 1-0, it’s not too surprising that the Penguins boast the more significant lineup questions, although they lean toward health concerns rather than performance tweaks.

Conor Sheary was able to return during Game 1 after Tom Wilson‘s controversial knee-to-knee hit, and he appears to be in for tonight’s contest as well. Chris Kunitz isn’t quite a guarantee, as he’s currently labeled a game-time decision.

For what it’s worth, Kunitz himself believes he’ll be in. Whether he plays on Saturday or not, it sounds like Kunitz is taking extra safety measures going forward.

The Penguins stayed vague with Marc-Andre Fleury, merely claiming that he’s making “progress.”

Generally speaking, Matt Murray has been playing well for the Penguins. Of course, the scrutiny will rise if Pittsburgh loses Game 2 on Saturday.

The Capitals are also considering a tweak. CSN Mid-Atlantic reports that Barry Trotz is pondering replacing Dmitry Orlov with Taylor Chorney.

“They told me to be prepared as if I’m going to be playing,” Chorney said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

As you may notice, Chorney isn’t the only one in wait-and-see mode heading into Game 2, which you can watch on NBC.

Hitchcock, Blues know they need to slow down the Stars … but can they?

The puck shot by Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel crosses the goal line as St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) attempt the stop during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. The Stars won 2-1. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
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The Dallas Stars only beat the St. Louis Blues by one goal (2-1) in Game 1, but the feeling is that the score was deceptively close.

Blame it on fatigue from that epic series against the Chicago Blackhawks or not; the Blues looked out of rhythm and out of breath against the hard-charging Stars.

At least they’re not in denial about that, though.

“We’re not going to beat anybody giving up 40 shots on goal,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after their Game 1 loss on Friday. “We’re not going to beat anybody giving up the scoring chances we did today.”

Hitchcock added “we’ve got to find the energy to play our game, and we’ve got to find it quickly in the next 48 hours.”

Allowing 40 shots on goal might not be that common for the Blues, yet they leaned heavily on Brian Elliott against the Blackhawks in that series.

Just look at the SOG comparison in that series and in Game 1 vs. Dallas:

Game 1: Blues – 18 SOG, Blackhawks – 35
Game 2: Blues – 31, Blackhawks – 29
Game 3: Blues – 36, Blackhawks – 46
Game 4: Blues – 20, Blackhawks – 42
Game 5: Blues – 46, Blackhawks – 35
Game 6: Blues – 28, Blachawks – 36
Game 7: Blues – 26, Blackhawks – 33

Game 1: Blues – 32, Stars – 42

Such shot comparisons make you wonder if Game 1 provided evidence of a rest advantage or if this might just be the state of affairs for the Blues (at least against two electric offenses).

One area to watch is the transition game. The Stars seemed to tear through the neutral zone while the Blues sometimes struggled to get things going.

“They’re a team that wants to play real fast up the ice and through the neutral zone,” Jay Bouwmeester said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Yeah, we didn’t do a very good job of slowing them down. A lot of their chances were off the rush. That’s what you want to take away from them.”

File that under “easier said than done.”

Gather your lucky charms, 2016 NHL Draft Lottery is tonight

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Honestly, it’s tough to blame people for making Edmonton Oilers jokes in regards to the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery.

Really it’s only human nature to drop one-liners about the perennial cellar-dweller that (seemingly) always lands the No. 1 pick.

Will it happen again this time around? We’ll find out soon enough, more precisely sometime around 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

As you can see, the Oilers do not have the best odds to land the top pick … but they’re close:

A reminder: this time around the lottery will determine the top three picks. The NHL discusses that tweak and other changes here:

For the first time, the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery will assign the top three slots in the first round of the NHL Draft – a change from prior years, when the Draft Lottery was used to determine the winner of the first overall selection exclusively.

Want the full lowdown on the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery? PHT has you covered here.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Saturday. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

NY Islanders at Tampa Bay (3:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Pittsburgh at Washington (8:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will also be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Some reading to get you pumped up:

– The Penguins are keeping chatty Marc-Andre Fleury from speaking to the media (reportedly).

Tom Wilson received a fine, not a suspension, for that knee-to-knee hit.

T.J. Oshie was the difference-maker for Washington in Game 1.

– Don’t expect Steven Stamkos to face red-hot John Tavares anytime soon (or at all, maybe).

Read about the Isles’ Game 1 win.