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.

The Buzzer: Bolts send Devils packing, Caps jump ahead, Leafs extend series

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Three games on Saturday

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, New Jersey Devils 1 (Lightning win series 4-1)

The Devils were one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season, but their 2017-18 campaign officially came to an end on Saturday. They’ll be disappointed, but this season was a success for the group. As for the Bolts, they’ve punched their ticket to the second round after a terrific regular season. The Lightning received point-per-game production from Nikita Kucherov (1o points), Steven Stamkos (6 points) and Alex Killorn (5 points), but they also had 14 different players pick up a point during the series.

 Washington Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT) (Capitals lead series 3-2)

Four of the five games in the series have gone to overtime. Game 5 was a typical back-and-forth affair, as the Jackets scored first before the Capitals went up 2-1. Columbus tied the game, Washington went ahead, again, 3-2, but a dominant third period led to the Blue Jackets forcing overtime. Nicklas Backstrom tipped-home the game-winning goal in overtime to give the Capitals the first home win of the series. This has clearly been the best first-round series of the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Boston Bruins 3 (Bruins lead series 3-2)

The Maple Leafs jumped out to 2-0 and 4-1 leads, but the Bruins managed to make things interesting in the third period. Boston had a number of power play opportunities, but they couldn’t cash in. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they’ll have to go back on the road to try to put the Leafs to bed. The Leafs managed to keep Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand off the scoresheet on Saturday. Replicating that two more times won’t be easy.

Three Stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Backstrom scored two goals, including the overtime winner against the Blue Jackets in Game 5. He also added an assist on T.J. Oshie‘s go-ahead goal late in the second frame. The win gave the Caps a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. The 30-year-old has two goals and eight points in five games this postseason.

2. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

The Capitals had a one-goal lead heading into the third frame, but they were badly outplayed in the third period. Holtby is the biggest reason why Washington was able to make it to overtime at all. The Blue Jackets outshot the Capitals 16-1 in the third frame. Holtby had a rough season, but his play in Game 5 was very encouraging.

3. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs had to kill a number of penalties during their Game 5 win over the Bruins, and Andersen was one of the key reasons they were able to do so. The Leafs netminder faced at least 40 shots for the third time in five games (he’s 2-1 in those contests). If Toronto wants to force a seventh game, they’ll need him to turn in another fantastic performance on Monday night.

Factoid of the Night

Sunday’s Schedule

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 3:00 p.m. ET

Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7:00 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to force a sixth game, thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

The Maple Leafs built up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission with goals from Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They would increase it to a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck