NHL officially investigating mega-contracts of Hossa, Savard, Pronger and Luongo

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for prongervshossa.jpgThe fallout from yesterday’s ruling in the Ilya Kovalchuk contract grievance case which nixed his monstrous contract with the New Jersey Devils is that, thanks to the collective bargaining agreement, it gave the NHL the opportunity to look into other contracts to see if, perhaps, they too could be ruled to be guilty of cap circumvention. While Vancouver GM Mike Gillis reported that the NHL is, indeed, looking into the Canucks’ deal with goalie Roberto Luongo, folks were wondering who else, if anyone else, would potentially get the NHL sniffing around at their ludicrous contracts as well.

As it turns out, a few teams are going to have to sweat things out the rest of the summer and not just because of the weather.

NHL senior vice president of public relations Gary Meagher confirmed Tuesday that the league continues to look at the front-loaded, long-term contracts of Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo and Boston Bruins center Marc Savard.

“I’m not sure ‘investigation’ is the right word,” Meagher said. “We’re looking at them.”

Arbitrator Richard Bloch upheld the NHL’s right to reject the 17-year, $102 million contract between Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils, and ESPN The Magazine senior writer E.J. Hradek cited a high-ranking NHL official on Monday saying the league continues to investigate the other four.

In Bloch’s ruling was a footnote stating the other four contracts “are being investigated currently with at least the possibility of a subsequent withdrawal of the registration.”

Hoo boy. And you thought the fun ended yesterday with Kovalchuk’s deal getting shot down. As it is, some teams are speaking out about and recognizing that yes, indeed, they are being investigated. Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli fessed up that they’re looking a bit closer at the details of Marc Savard’s contract extension that he signed in December.

“We are cooperating fully with the League in its investigation of the Marc Savard contract extension. The League informed us upon their registration of the contract on December 1, 2009 that they would be investigating the circumstances surrounding this contract. From that point on, they commenced their investigation and it has been ongoing since then. On August 4th, I met with two League appointed lawyers as part of the investigation. We will continue to cooperate with the League in any future investigative proceedings if necessary and we will have no further comment on the matter at this time.”

What’s curious about what Chiarelli says here is the date he cited for when the NHL came calling: August 4th. Checking my calendar, yesterday was August 9th, so it’s clear the NHL had a good idea about how they thought Richard Bloch was going to rule on Kovalchuk’s contract. After all, why start sniffing around at other deals if you’re going to get shot down in arbitration.

As is typical of their organization, the Flyers are being a little less-than-helpful to the league regarding Chris Pronger’s contract and are instead arguing semantics about it as Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly shares.

On Monday, arbitrator Richard Bloch voided New Jersey’s contract with
Kovalchuk on the basis it circumvented the CBA. Furthermore, Bloch’s
ruling cited the Pronger deal – among others – as being equally
suspicious.

Suddenly, the Flyers are back on the radar because of Bloch.
 
“The
contract with Chris Pronger that we registered with the National Hockey
League is one we certainly feel was a compliant contract,” Flyers
president Peter Luukko said Tuesday afternoon.
 
“The Pronger contract is structured differently than the Kovalchuk contract. And it’s been in effect well over a year.”
 
Luukko had no further comment, nor did the NHL.

Where things get really curious in these matters is their investigation into Marian Hossa’s contract with Chicago. Of the other players mentioned that the league is looking into, Hossa is the only player out of the bunch to play any games with his team on that deal. The other players all signed extensions that have yet to kick in thus making Hossa’s story that much more dramatic, something the New York Post’s Larry Brooks was quick to jump on.

Hossa was in the lineup for 22 playoff games last spring. Presumably his presence affected the outcome of at least some Chicago victories. If the NHL is consistent and does move to prosecute the Blackhawks and Hossa, Bettman could vacate the title as if his league were the NCAA dealing with Reggie Bush and USC.

What a delightful can of worms this situation has potentially opened. While no one is sure if the NHL will pursue action against any of the teams and players involved with other questionable deals, the fact that they’re investigating is going to be a sore point and a tremendous distraction for teams, players and fans alike.

Yet again after a post season that excited new and old fans alike, the league and the players have found a way to take all discussion about the game completely off the table and turned everyone into learn-at-home lawyer on the fly just to try and have a discussion. Hockey fans talking about legal proceedings is the sort of summer discussion fodder the NHL should be trying to eliminate rather than stoke the fires of discussion about it.

Yet here we are talking about Richard Bloch’s skills as a playmaker from the law bench, Gary Bettman’s ability as an enforcer and the NHLPA getting beaten like a rented mule. Talk about a disheartening summer and the worst part still is that this is just the beginning.

Pavelec, Jets aren’t ruling out return next year

Winnipeg Jets v New York Islanders
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For the longest time, the talk in Winnipeg was how to move on from Ondrej Pavelec.

Amazing what a pair of wins can do.

Since being recalled from the AHL last week, Pavelec has backstopped the Jets to back-to-back victories — stopping 64 of 70 shots, for a .914 save percentage — and now, both he and the organization are being asked about a potential return next season.

From the Free Press:

In the fall, he accepted his demotion to the AHL with humility and class and has been a calming presence since returning to the Jets last week.

A scenario where Pavelec would serve as an experienced, lower cost No. 2 behind the anointed No. 1, Connor Hellebuyck, doesn’t seem completely far-fetched.

Pavelec told the Free Press he’s not thinking about next year, but did admit “I’m gonna be a free agent, I guess, for the first time.”

Head coach Paul Maurice was also vague about the future, but slightly more optimistic.

“Everything is possible,” Maurice explained. “There’s so much that’s transpired, there’s so much good for Ondrej to look forward to — that will be taken care of at that time.”

Maurice added that getting back into the NHL, and winning games, was the “start to the possibilities” for Pavelec’s future.

Look, there’s no denying Pavelec hasn’t been good and, accordingly, faced a ton of heat from fans and media over the last few seasons. But a significant chunk of that was fueled by his five-year, $19.5 million contract — a deal that was came under scrutiny the moment it was signed. As each year passed, the contract looked worse and worse, and things reached a fever pitch back in October, when Pavelec passed through waivers unclaimed and landed in the minors.

The contract expires in July and, without that financial albatross, the narrative around Pavelec changes. Especially if he puts together a decent run over the final three months of this season.

And this is why the aforementioned bring-him-back-on-the-cheap idea was floated. There’s little chance the Jets re-enter next season with the Hellebuyck-Hutchinson tandem, or putting Hellebuyck in tandem with another young, inexperienced guy.

The problem, though, would be location.

While it’s possible Pavelec will emerge as a inexpensive, useful veteran backup, there could be too much history for it to happen in Winnipeg.

No buyer’s remorse for Panthers after giving Yandle big money

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 07: Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers and Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning fight for the puck during a game  at BB&T Center on November 7, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers may be one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL, but there’s no buyer’s remorse after trading for Keith Yandle and giving the puck-moving defenseman a seven-year, $44.5 million contract.

“He’s fit in terrific,” Panthers GM and interim coach Tom Rowe said Sunday, per the Sun-Sentinel. “He’s such a positive influence on our young guys and in our locker room in general. We targeted him as our No. 1 free-agent signing [because we] thought he’d really complement our forwards. We had figured if he could get the puck up to them on the rush and create more offense, that’s what we’re looking for. He’s on target with what we thought he could do.”

Yandle, 30, has three goals and 20 assists in 48 games. His 23 points are the fifth most on his team — a team that’s been ravaged by injuries to key forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Nick Bjugstad.

Read more: Rowe says no timeline on Barkov, who could be out a while longer

Tonight in Arizona, Florida finishes up a four-game road trip against Yandle’s first NHL team, the Coyotes.

For the Panthers, it’s a prime opportunity to pick up two points — something they failed to do in the first three games of their trip. The only point they gained was in Edmonton, where they lost in overtime. They lost in regulation to Calgary and Vancouver.

Suffice to say, the Panthers really need to start stringing some wins together. Otherwise, the first year of Yandle’s big contract will pass by without getting to use him in the playoffs, and they’ll surely have some regrets about that.

Allen’s mental reset continues, as Blues will start Hutton in Pittsburgh

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen is slow to get up after giving up a goal to Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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St. Louis is giving Jake Allen more time to sort out his struggles.

Today, the club announced backup Carter Hutton will start tomorrow in Pittsburgh, while Pheonix Copley — the AHL call-up that allowed five goals in Saturdays’ loss in Winnipeg — will serve as the No. 2.

Allen, who didn’t even travel to Winnipeg so he could ‘reset’ mentally, will start on Thursday in Minnesota, which will be St. Louis’ last game prior to the All-Star break. Copley will again serve as the backup.

The decision to go back to Allen comes after a horrific stretch in which he was yanked from three straight games, and four of his past six.

It is noteworthy, though, that Allen isn’t getting the Pittsburgh game. Part of that could be the opponent — the Pens are a force offensively, and lead the NHL in goals per game — but it could also be that Allen needs additional time to sort out his issues.

Whatever the case, the plan may have changed. In explaining why he left Allen behind while the team went to Winnipeg, Blues GM Doug Armstrong suggested Allen could get right back in.

“I think taking a day way, getting a total reset — he could reset traveling with the team, but I wanted a complete reset — and then we come back on Sunday, he’s back in the net and he’s ready to go,” Armstrong said, per the Post-Dispatch. “To me, it’s not a huge story; he’s going to take a day to get a reset with his family — he just had a young baby — but the play needs to improve and I want to give him a fresh start.”

Allen’s struggles this year are well-documented (see here, here, here and here). Per the Post-Dispatch, his .897 save percentage ranks 43rd among 47 goalies who have appeared in 14 or more games this season.

Oshie’s contract status underscores urgency in Washington

Washington Capitals' Matt Niskanen (2) and T.J. Oshie (77) celebrate with Alex Ovechkin (8) after Ovechkin scored against the Dallas Stars during the third period an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Dallas. Stars' Jamie Benn (14) skates back to the bench. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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The way he keeps scoring, T.J. Oshie‘s next contract isn’t getting any smaller.

The 30-year-old winger was today named the NHL’s third star of the week, after racking up six points (3G, 3A) in three games for the red-hot Washington Capitals.

Oshie now has 31 points (17G, 14A) in 38 games. A pending unrestricted free agent, he’ll no doubt be looking for a raise beyond his current cap hit of $4.175 million.

One comparable contract is Andrew Ladd‘s seven-year, $38.5 million deal with the Islanders.

Loui Eriksson‘s six-year, $36 million deal with the Canucks is another.

And one more for good measure: David Backes‘ five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins.

All three of those contracts have a cap hit of around, or exactly, $6 million. Ladd and Eriksson are a year older than Oshie, while Backes is two years older. They’re all reliable veteran wingers, just like Oshie.

Now, the Caps could always try and convince Oshie to take a home-town discount. They may even be able to keep him without a discount.

That being said, their No. 1 priority has to be getting Evgeny Kuznetsov, a pending restricted free agent, locked up. And they also need to keep in mind John Carlson, their No. 1 defenseman who can become unrestricted in the summer of 2018.

“We’re going to have some decisions to make as far as veteran players, and our young guys are going to be due for some pay raises,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said last season.

When he said it, MacLellan saw his team in a “two-year window.”

Alas, only one year of that window remains. Hence, the urgency to finally win the Stanley Cup this spring.

Like Oshie, Justin Williams and Karl Alzner are pending UFAs.

And like Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Brett ConnollyDmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Philipp Grubauer are pending RFAs.

The Caps host Carolina tonight.

Related: Kuznetsov sets table for Jakub Vrana’s first NHL goal