Bettman denies refusing second Kovalchuk contract, KHL offer remains on the table

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kovalchukhighfive.jpgThe main rule from now on when it comes to dealing with Ilya Kovalchuk and his ongoing saga with the New Jersey Devils is to expect nothing and to be ready for everything. Today proved to be ripe with information surrounding the league apparently shooting down the framework to a second contract between Kovalchuk and the Devils. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about the truth to that and he opted to play semantics with ESPN’s Scott Burnside instead.

“In order for a contract to be rejected, there would have to be a signed contract submitted,” Bettman said Wednesday after addressing the World Hockey Summit. “There has not been a signed contract submitted.”

But Bettman did not dispute that there has likely been ongoing dialogue between the Devils and the league over what might be allowed under the salary cap.

“I don’t know if there has been such cap advice, what the specifics of it might be, and I wouldn’t comment on it anyway because that’s a dialogue we regularly have with our clubs,” Bettman said.

When it comes to matters like these, Gary Bettman is like a real-life genie. If you’re not asking him the question you want the answer to in the correct way in order to elicit the answer you’re looking for, you’re not going to get any of the information you’re looking for. Thankfully we don’t need to rub a magic lamp to make him appear in order to ask him these questions.

Of course, all this sort of bluster does is open the door for KHL president Alexander Medvedev to once again proclaim his league’s apparent open-door policy for Ilya Kovalchuk. Lucky for us, Medvedev is also in Toronto for the World Hockey Summit and happily shared his stance with the media as The Sporting News’ Craig Custance shares.

On Wednesday, while in Toronto for the World Hockey Summit, Medvedev said he received a call from Kovalchuk’s agent and planned on calling him back after meeting with reporters.

“It could be big news,” he joked.

But he’s seriously hopeful Kovalchuk will end up playing in his league, especially in light of reports that the league rejected the latest Kovalchuk proposal from the Devils.

“I just got today in the morning that the new draft of the contract was rejected. Ilya knows that our proposal is still on the table,” Medvedev said.

It must be nice to have that kind of opportunity open to you if things get too screwed up in the league you really want to play in. Yes, Kovalchuk absolutely wants to be in the NHL and the threat of the KHL “swooping in to steal him” is nothing but idle chatter from folks eager to create drama.

As for NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, he’s preaching the company line about adhering to the rules handed down by systems arbitrator Richard Bloch.

“Obviously he’s a great player and we want him playing in the National Hockey League and I believe he wants to play in the National Hockey League,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “Having said that, I think it’s very, very important to protect our rules and to make decisions based on our rules and if it means losing a player, I’d rather protect our rules than make an exception for an exceptional player.”

All we’ve got out of all this is a public relations fiasco of the highest order. If the NHLPA were a tougher union, it’s possible that this whole circus isn’t going on but that’s an awfully large straw-man kind of argument. The fact remains that there’s no real blueprint for how Kovalchuk, his agent Jay Grossman, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek should be approaching this situation. Doing things the way the league wants it done means that the Devils blow up their team to fit Kovalchuk under the cap and doing things the Devils way is apparently the complete wrong way to do things.

The saga continues.

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    Report: Leafs win arbitration case with Cowen

    OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 21: Jared Cowen #2 of the Ottawa Senators prepares for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre on January 21, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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    The Toronto Maple Leafs have won their arbitration case with Jared Cowen, who will remain bought out.

    TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the news today. It is a significant loss for Cowen, the 25-year-old defenseman who came to the Leafs in February as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade.

    From Sportsnet’s story before the ruling:

    At issue is whether Cowen was healthy enough to have the final year of his contract bought out by the Leafs last summer. A lengthy section of the CBA is devoted to “procedures for determining fitness to play,” and they include a player’s right to pursue a second medical opinion beyond what is provided by the team.

    That information, plus witness testimony and other evidence, will be taken into account by the arbitrator while rendering a decision.

    For Cowen, there is $3-million in salary at stake. That represents somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 per cent of his career NHL earnings to date – a huge amount given his injury history and diminished future earning potential.

    For the Leafs, it’s significant win. They’ll actually get a $650,000 cap credit this season. Next season, they’ll take a $750,000 hit, and after that their obligations are over.

    If they’d lost, they would’ve lost the credit and assumed a $3.1-million cap hit this season, the final year of Cowen’s contract.

    Sportsnet explains why the Leafs didn’t want to lose:

    That’s a $3.75-million cap swing in total and would almost certainly result in the Leafs invoking long-term injury relief on one of three players – Nathan Horton, Stephane Robidas or Joffrey Lupul – to remain compliant.

    Even though the LTI maneuver would offer immediate relief, it’s something the Leafs hope to avoid since it would increase the size of the cap overage penalty they’ll carry into next season because of performance bonuses expected to be earned by as many as five rookies in their current lineup.

    Cowen had hip surgery after he was bought out. It’s been reported he may not be ready to play until February, assuming he can find a team. He played 37 games for the Senators last season, registering no goals and four assists.

    Related: Lupul to start season on injured reserve, still aims to play again

    No hearing for Taylor Hall after Larsen hit

    NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 06:  Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils hits Philip Larsen #63 of the Vancouver Canucks in the second period on December 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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    Devils forward Taylor Hall will avoid supplemental discipline for his big hit on Vancouver’s Philip Larsen, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

    Midway through New Jersey’s eventual 3-2 win over the Canucks, Hall caught Larsen behind the Vancouver goal with a massive bodycheck, knocking Larsen unconscious. The Danish blueliner was prone on the ice for several seconds before receiving medical attention, and was eventually stretchered off.

    Hall wasn’t penalized on the play.

    Larsen spent the night in a New Jersey-area hospital, per Sportsnet, and is flying to Vancouver today to meet with team doctors.

    Hall said he didn’t regret throwing the hit, but felt awful about the result. He and Larsen do have a history, having briefly played together in Edmonton.

    “I’m looking to make contact there, but I never want to see a guy laying on the ice there like that,” Hall said, per NJ.com. “I only know how to play the game one way, and you’ve got to play it hard. But like I said, I feel terrible.

    “When you see him laying on the ice like that, he’s a former teammate of mine, and I just would have loved to make a hit there and continue the play. I hope he’s OK.”

    Related: The Devils are hanging around, thanks to a great home record

    The Devils are hanging around, thanks to a great home record

    NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 9: Cory Schneider #35 of the New Jersey Devils and teammates salute their fans after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on April 9, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Maple Leafs 5-1. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
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    Last night’s game in Newark was mostly notable for the scary situation involving Vancouver’s Philip Larsen, who had to be stretchered off the ice following a devastating hit by Taylor Hall.

    But the players played on, and the Devils eventually defeated the Canucks, 3-2.

    The victory improved New Jersey’s record at Prudential Center to 8-0-2. The Devils are the only team in the NHL that has yet to lose in regulation at home. They’ve struggled on the road, going 4-7-4.

    A quarter of the way through the season, the jury remains out on New Jersey as a legitimate playoff contender. The Devils have just six regulation wins, with four of their victories coming in overtime and two more in the shootout. Only the Panthers (5), Coyotes (4), and Canucks (4) have won fewer games in regulation.

    But keeping games close has served the Devils well. Twelve times they’ve been tied after 60 minutes, guaranteeing them at least a point. Heading into tonight’s action, they sit just one point back of Washington for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

    “We’re in a playoff race,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz told reporters this morning ahead of his team’s game with the Bruins (on NBCSN).

    The Devils don’t play again until Thursday in Montreal, where a tough stretch starts for John Hynes’ crew. New Jersey returns home to face St. Louis Friday, then it’s back on the road for games at the Rangers, Blues, Senators, and Rangers again.

    Wings activate Howard off IR following six-game absence

    MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 12:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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    The Red Wings have played pretty well lately — 5-1-2 in their last eight — and got some good news on Wednesday, as veteran netminder Jimmy Howard was activated off injured reserve.

    Howard has been out since Nov. 25 with a groin injury, suffered early in a game against the Devils. He’s missed the last six games as a result, but will — per NHL.com — take part in Thursday’s practice and presumably be ready to dress in time for Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets.

    Howard was playing very well prior to getting hurt, posting a 1.82 GAA and .940 save percentage in 12 appearances, 11 of those being starts.

    His return means it’s back to AHL Grand Rapids for Jared Coreau, who was recalled a couple weeks ago and made his NHL debut against the Penguins last Saturday, stopping 32 shots in a 5-3 loss. That game was the only one in the last eight in which Detroit failed to secure at least a point.

    A big reason for that run was the play of Petr Mrazek. With Howard out, the Czech ‘tender has performed admirably, especially over his last five games — Mrazek has stopped 147 of 158 shots for a .930 save percentage, posting a record of 3-0-2.