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.

Robin Lehner certainly has swagger

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Robin Lehner #40 of the Buffalo Sabres stretches during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Robin Lehner is a big goalie, and barring possible language barrier issues, sure seems to have a pretty big personality.

That at least seems to be the case with the Buffalo Sabres’ top guy, who provided the Buffalo News’ John Vogl with a great quote:

“There’s a lot of pressure on me, and that’s fine. … I know I’m a good goaltender,” Lehner said.

Hey now.

As much as the Sabres feel like a work in progress, acquiring Lehner was one of GM Tim Murray’s boldest moves. Murray was able to observe Lehner in Ottawa, and despite some struggles, the big Swede (6-foot-5, 240 lbs.) was sneaky-good in 2015-16.

Twenty-one games serves as a limited sample size, yet a .924 save percentage seems quite promising. His 107 career regular season games are spread over six seasons, so to some extent, the 25-year-old is still something of an unknown entity.

If nothing else, it looks like he could provide some Bryzgalovian entertainment.

Back in March, Ben Scrivens admitted he was happy to avoid a fight with a guy he called a “bit of a psycho.”

Sounds like a guy to watch.

Clarke MacArthur helped off ice during Sens scrimmage

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

Team Europe is happy to play underdog role

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TORONTO (AP) When the World Cup of Hockey started, Team Europe was not picked as a team to beat.

In fact, the unique team made up of eight nations outside of the continent’s traditional hockey powers was expected to be out of the best-on-best tournament.

Team Europe had other plans.

The blended group of players opened the tournament with a 3-0 win over the U.S. and then beat the Czech Republic in overtime to seal a spot in the semifinals before losing to Canada.

“I know nobody really expected us to be here right now,” Danish and Detroit Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen said Saturday. “But when you look in the room and go over the team, there’s not a lot of players better than (Anze) Kopitar in this tournament. We got (Marian) Hossa. We got some good guys on the backend and good goaltending.”

The Europeans will face Sweden on Sunday for a spot in the best-of-three finals against the winner of Saturday night’s Canada-Russia game.

When Team Europe players have faced Sweden for their countries – Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia, France, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Norway – in previous, they didn’t have a legitimate chance to win.

They do now.

A veteran group of skaters and a star in Kopitar along with Slovak and New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak give them a shot on any sheet of ice.

“He’s the kind of goalie that almost every night, he gives you a chance to win,” said Nielsen, who played with Halak in New York. “And, he’ll make that save when you need it.”

Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger said he’ll likely save his rah-rah speeches for another team because this one simply doesn’t need it.

Krueger began to sense something special was in store for Team Europe nearly a year ago when several candidates to be on the team met when Boston and the New York Islanders played. When the entire group gathered nearly three weeks ago in Quebec, Krueger got even more excited about the natural chemistry the team already had from their shared experiences.

“We didn’t have to do a lot of extra team-building,” Krueger said. “It just happened with a combination of leadership and personalities and character and will – of pure will – of these eight nations that are forever underdogs, forever going home when the final four is staged, forever watching other teams play in finals of best of best. That opportunity has fueled the fire that taken us here.”

Follow Larry Lage at http://www.twitter.com/larrylage and follow his work at http://www.bigstory.ap.org/content/larry-lage

Sadly, Crosby praise still comes at Ovechkin’s expense

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Alex Ovechkin #8 and Sidney Crosby #87 shake hands following Team Canada's  5-3 victory to move on to the finals during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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Here’s a homework assignment for you: praise Sidney Crosby‘s incredible work without downgrading Alex Ovechkin.

Yes, it’s not easy.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun presented an interesting column that spotlighted an admittedly “tired narrative” while still ultimately pumping up Crosby at Ovechkin’s expense.

LeBrun quoted anonymous executives who, yes, trotted out tired narratives. One executive did the baseball thing in making it Crosby (“five-tool guy”) vs. Ovechkin (“home run hitter”) while another equated it to a full-court player vs. a “half-court” player.

It’s all … well, tiresome.

Ovechkin may not have had the greatest game of his life on Saturday, but watching that game, was the takeaway really that he let Russia down? That the difference between the two teams was, in any way, about Crosby over Ovechkin?

You can throw out all sorts of stats or lean on the eye test to note how over-matched Russia really was in that game. Or you can consider the defensemen Russia dressed in a best-on-best clash:

Dmitry Kulikov, Dmitry Orlov, Nikita Zaitsev, Alexey Marchenko, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and Nikita Nesterov.

Yikes.

Search your soul for a second and ask: how uneasy would an NHL team feel about that group of blueliners? Such a collection would struggle against one of the league’s 30 squads, let alone against a virtual All-Star team.

Is Crosby better than Ovechkin? There’s a strong chance that is the case, because of the whole “Crosby probably being the best player of his generation” thing.

How about this for a daring idea, though: why not enjoy the work of both players?

Ovechkin is easily the best sniper of his generation, and with 82 points in 84 career playoff games, sure seems like a strong big-game player. As we all know, hockey is a team sport, yet the blame falls on Ovechkin again and again.

Instead, let’s give Crosby and the rest of his brilliant teammates our attention, as we’ve seen here, here and here.