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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    Video: Hagelin goes top shelf to give Penguins the lead in Game 2

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    In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.

    Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.

    Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.

    Video: Orpik penalized after catching Maatta with late, high hit

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins were without defenseman Olli Maatta for most of the first period of Game 2 after he was on the receiving end of a high, late hit from Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik.

    The hit occurred early in the first period, well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck on a rush into the Washington zone.

    Maatta, who nearly fell over as he tried to stand back up, was in obvious distress as he went to the dressing room. Orpik was given a minor penalty for interference on the play.

    Shanahan: Leafs earned No. 1 pick ‘the hard way’

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    It’s been 31 years since the Toronto Maple Leafs had the No. 1 overall pick at the draft.

    And, to hear team president Brendan Shanahan explain it, getting back to that top spot wasn’t easy — on anybody.

    “We earned this the hard way,” Shanahan told Sportsnet on Saturday, moments after winning the draft lottery. “It wasn’t a whole lot of fun this year, but our guys and our coaching staff and our management staff did a lot of really good things here in Toronto.

    “This [the No. 1 overall pick] will certainly help.”

    It’s easy to see why optimism is high within the organization.

    The last time Toronto had the No. 1 pick it selected Wendel Clark, who went on to become a revered player. He played for the Leafs on three separate occasions, served as team captain and now works for the organization in a public relations and community ambassador role.

    This year, the opportunity to make a similar impact is there.

    Auston Matthews, viewed as the odds-on favorite to go first overall, possesses the elite-level talent that could turn a franchise around. And there are few teams in more need of a turn than Toronto — as Shanahan alluded to, this was a very difficult year, as the Leafs finished dead last in the standings and were the only NHL club not to crack the 30-win plateau.

    Part of that was by design. The Leafs dealt away Phil Kessel prior to the season, Dion Phaneuf during it and jettisoned a host of other productive players: James Reimer, Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, Daniel Winnik and Shawn Matthias, to name a few.

    By the end of the year, the Leafs were a mishmash of AHLers, spare parts and a few future pieces.

    Speaking of the future…

    Assuming the Leafs go the Matthews route, it’s expected he’ll make an immediate impact on the lineup. TSN already has him penciled in as the No. 2 center — playing the middle on a line with the club’s other top prospect, William Nylander — and Matthews’ head coach in Switzerland this season, Marc Crawford, used L.A. Kings star Anze Kopitar as a potential comparison.

    Of course, there is a chance Matthews isn’t the pick.

    Finnish sensation Patrick Laine has been making waves recently, thanks in large part to capturing SM-liiga playoff MVP honors this week. Laine has the kind of goalscoring ability and booming shot that would translate well — and, immediately — to the NHL level, though he is a winger.

    Not a center, like Matthews.

    Regardless of who the Leafs pick, this much is clear — they bottomed out this season with the intention of getting a high draft pick and, while the process was very painful at times, everything worked out in the end.

    “When you have an opportunity to pick first overall, it’s an important moment for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it’s an important moment for our fans,” Shanahan explained. “Our ownership group has given us the support to do this build the right way.”

    Tank you very much: Leafs win NHL Draft Lottery, retain No. 1 overall pick

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone from worst to first.

    The Leafs finished dead last in the NHL’s overall standings, giving them the best odds of winning Saturday’s draft lottery. And when the big show ended, Toronto had landed that top pick for the draft on June 24.

    Outside of Toronto, the biggest winner Saturday had to be the Winnipeg Jets. They entered the day with the sixth best odds of getting the top pick at just 7.5 per cent. They were able to move all the way up to the second overall pick, which could certainly land them a franchise player and one that could definitely be ready to make the jump into the NHL next season.

    The biggest loser? You could definitely argue it was the Vancouver Canucks. They finished 28th in the overall standings, giving them an 11.5 per cent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. But they fell all the way to fifth.

    The Edmonton Oilers? Well, they didn’t win. Had they won the lottery, it would’ve given them the first overall pick for the fifth time in seven years.

    Here is the 2016 draft order:

    1. Toronto Maple Leafs
    2. Winnipeg Jets
    3. Columbus Blue Jackets
    4. Edmonton Oilers
    5. Vancouver Canucks
    6. Calgary Flames
    7. Arizona Coyotes
    8. Buffalo Sabres
    9. Montreal Canadiens
    10. Colorado Avalanche
    11. New Jersey Devils
    12. Ottawa Senators
    13. Carolina Hurricanes
    14. Boston Bruins

    Now that the order is set, who will go No. 1, 2 and 3 in that opening round?

    Auston Matthews has long held the title as the top-ranked player heading into this draft. But there’s been increasing chatter that Finnish winger Patrik Laine has at least closed the gap between him and Matthews for that first overall selection, according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.

    Meanwhile, fellow Finnish forward Jesse Puljujärvi likely rounds out the top three, following a sensational showing at the 2016 World Junior Championships.