Ilya Kovalchuk speaks out about his contract ordeal with the NHL

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kovalchukwithstrangestatue.jpgWe’ve heard from just about everyone close to or involved in the Ilya Kovalchuk situation. We’ve heard from Lou Lamoriello, we’ve heard from his teammates but we haven’t heard from Ilya Kovalchuk himself. Until now. The always on the spot when it comes to Russian NHLers Dmitry Chesnokov from Yahoo’s Puck Daddy gets the exclusive first interview with Kovalchuk after the summer-long contract dispute with the NHL.

In it, Kovalchuk speaks his mind about the NHLPA representation and about how Brian Burke did, indeed, testify against his contract and others like it during the contract grievance arbitration hearing.

Two questions and answers stand out in particular from this great interview.

How did you feel when your initial contract was rejected right after you held a press conference in Newark?

What feelings could I have had? I was told that a rejection was a possibility. So, I was actually ready for it. Back then we didn’t know for sure that the contract would be approved. And then there was an arbitration hearing. But of course when I was told that the contract had been rejected, it didn’t feel good. But at the same time, New Jersey made another offer that ultimately satisfied everyone.

Do you feel that maybe the Players Association didn’t mount a good enough defense for you?

Not at all. Why? They presented their case entirely; they said everything they had to say. But ultimately it was up to the arbitrator who made a decision. There’s nothing criminal in this.

All in all, Kovalchuk’s handling of everything is pretty calm, cool and collected. I can’t say that if I were in his shoes I’d be as reasonable and seemingly mild-mannered given everything that went down to gum up the process. I’ll stress that everyone go to Puck Daddy to read the rest of the interview. Being that there aren’t any other writers out there able to get the kind of direct access to speak with players from Russia the way Chesnokov does, he’s doing a lot to help make the lines of communication more open and much clearer for NHL fans.

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    Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

    Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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    Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

    The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

    “First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

    Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

    Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.

    Hemsky finds his groove on third line

    DALLAS, TX - APRIL 11: Ales Hemsky #83 of the Dallas Stars handles the puck against the Nashville Predators at the American Airlines Center on April 11, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
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    When the Dallas Stars inked Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal, the hope was that he would be a valuable secondary scorer and help round out their top-six. Things haven’t gone as predicted, but Hemsky has emerged as a significant player for Dallas lately.

    Hemsky is now playing on the third line with Radek Faksa and Antoine Roussel and he’s gone on to record 15 points in his last 16 regular season games as well as another four points in seven playoff contests.

    “We had hard conversations about how I felt the game needed to be played, where I felt his game needed to go,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “Did it always go his way? No. But from his defensive responsibilities to really buying into shooting the puck a little bit more, I think he’s been a real good asset for us this year.”

    The Morning News goes into much more detail about Hemsky and his resurgence, but taking a step back from that, having a third line that’s both impactful without the puck and capable of chipping in offensively is important, especially as we get deeper into the playoffs. There’s no question that the Stars have big time players on their roster, but that’s obviously not all you need in the playoffs.

    A lot of the time when talking about the Stars’ areas of concern, their defense and goaltending come up and understandably so given that Dallas allowed more goals in the regular season than any other team that made the playoffs. But the value of a strong bottom-six shouldn’t be understated and perhaps Hemsky’s recent resurgence will play a role in the Stars having that going for them throughout the playoffs.

    Dallas has taken a 1-0 lead over St. Louis in the second round and has an opportunity to build on that in Game 2 this afternoon (3:00 p.m. ET).

    NHL schedules hearing with Orpik over Maatta hit

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    Brooks Orpik‘s late hit in Game 2 on Saturday might keep him out of Monday’s contest.

    At the very least, the NHL Department of Player Safety intends to discuss the matter with Orpik today, per the department’s Twitter feed.

    The incident occurred early in the first period when the Capitals forward smashed into Olli Maatta. The Penguins blueliner collapsed and needed some assistance getting off the ice. He didn’t return to the game.

    You can see that hit below:

    “I thought it was a late hit,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

    The Penguins didn’t have an update on Maatta’s condition immediately following the contest.

    ‘I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,’ Jets GM Cheveldayoff gets lucky with draft lottery

    Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of Winnipeg Jets, speaks to members of the media after winning the second selection of the NHL hockey draft lottery in Toronto, Saturday, April 30, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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    The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won the draft lottery, but an argument can be made that the luckiest team last night was the Winnipeg Jets.

    After all, Toronto had the best odds to get the top pick, but Winnipeg jumped from sixth to second in the draft order.

    “I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told the Winnipeg Sun. “I was doing my scrum at the end (of the show) with the media that was here, I said at one point, ‘Moving from six to two…’ and I had to catch myself and go through the mental notes in my head that it had just really happened.”

    It’s likely, though not guaranteed, that the Maple Leafs will take Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. Assuming that’s the case, moving up to the second overall pick means that Winnipeg will have the option of choosing one of the two promising Finnish forwards available: Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi.

    That’s potentially a big break for Winnipeg, especially after this campaign where the Jets went from making the playoffs for the first time since relocating to posting a 35-39-8 record. Through five campaigns in Winnipeg, the Jets have missed the playoffs four times.

    The last time this franchise drafted this high was back when the then Atlanta Thrashers took Kari Lehtonen with the second overall pick in 2002. That was the final year in a string of four straight drafts where the Thrashers always had the first or second selection. The previous three years they took Patrik Stefan (1999), Dany Heatley (2000), and Ilya Kovalchuk (2001).

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