Should the NHL be upset with the structure of Brad Richards’ new contract?

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The New Jersey Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuk to two contracts last summer. The first (rejected) one included a few final seasons with salaries that ran in such stark contrast to the first, big-money campaigns that the NHL took a stand.

After permitting numerous contracts that included final years with such small salaries that one can only assume that the two sides had “wink, wink” retirement agreements, the league would not validate the first version of Kovalchuk’s ridiculous deal. The NHL eventually ratified an amended version of Kovalchuk’s contract, but it came at a price. The Devils were fined $3 million for their shenanigans, lost their 2011 third round pick and must give up a first round pick in one of the next three years (they could have given that up this year, but they wisely chose not to and ended up landing defenseman of the future Adam Larsson).

In a way, the NHL “made an example” of the Devils, but it seemed a lot like grade school moments in which the most rambunctious child gets all the peddling even though he’s far from the only person who misbehaves. If the league is truly upset with those types of deals, they cannot be very happy with the structure of Brad Richards’ boffo deal with the New York Rangers.

With the help of Gord Miller’s report, here is the year-by-year structure of yet another cap-circumventing contract.

2011-12 season: $12 million ($10 million signing bonus, $2 million salary)
2012-13 season: $12 million ($8 million signing bonus, $4 million salary)
2013-14 salary: $9 million
2014-15 salary: $8.5 million
2015-16 salary: $8.5 million
2016-17 salary: $7 million
2017-18 salary: $1 million
2018-19 salary: $1 million
2019-20 salary: $1 million

Here is how Ilya Kovalchuk’s rejected contract would have looked.

2010-11: $6 million
2011-12: $6 million
2012-13: $11.5 million
2013-14: $11.5 million
2014-15: $11.5 million
2015-16: $11.5 million
2016-17: $11.5 million
2017-18: $10.5 million
2018-19: $8.5 million
2019-20: $6.5 million
2020-21: $3.5 Million
2021-22: $750,000
2022-23: $550,000
2023-24: $550,000
2024-25: $550,000
2025-26: $550,000
2026-27: $550,000

Now, there are a few things that make the Kovalchuk deal worse.

1. The bottom falls out of Richards’ deal in the last three years while Kovalchuk’s rejected contract featured a whopping six-year window in which one would assume he would retire.

2. Imagining Kovalchuk playing for $750K or $550K is slightly tougher to stomach than Richards playing for $1 million in the two players’ twilight years.

That being said, Kovalchuk’s deal is almost twice as long as Richards’ contract. In the grand scheme of things, there’s the same slap-you-in-the-face obviousness to the cap circumvention. Maybe the Rangers’ deal seems a little bit closer to reality, but the goal seems pretty much the same. There’s no real effort to disguise the drop in Richards’ deal when you look at the $6 million drop from his 2016-17 salary to his 2017-18 take-home.

For the sake of argument, here is the structure of the Kovalchuk deal the NHL reluctantly accepted.

2010-11: $6 million
2011-12: $6 million
2012-13: $11 million
2013-14: $11.3 million
2014-15: $11.3 million
2015-16: $11.6 million
2016-17: $11.8 million
2017-18: $10 million
2018-19: $7 million
2020-21: $4 million
2021-22: $1 million
2022-23: $1 million
2023-24: $1 million
2024-25: $3 million
2025-26: $4 million

Ultimately, it looks like the Richards deal will narrowly conform to the CBA amendments that the NHL and NHLPA hashed out after the Kovalchuk situation blew up. Richards deal goes now lower than $1 million, which seems to be the mark that will keep the league at bay.

That being said, the Richards deal basically shoves the letter/spirit of the law into the shredder. This must be a great sign for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Los Angeles Kings, at least if they intend to sign their respective restricted free agents Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty to “lifetime contracts.” If the league lets this stand, it’s clear that last year’s work didn’t close a loophole; it just make the loophole a little smaller.

The Buzzer: Thornton moves up all-time scoring list; Kings snap six-game losing skid

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Players of the Night:

Brian Elliott looked solid in Philadelphia’s overtime win over the Capitals, as he turned aside 27 of 28 shots. This was the first time in eight games that the Flyers netminder allowed fewer than three goals in a game, but he’s still been victorious in three of his last four outings.

• How about that goalie duel between Connor Hellebuyck and Anders Nilsson. The Jets won the game, but both goaltenders were fantastic during this all-Canadian matchup.

• Sticking with the goalie theme, Aaron Dell was fantastic between the pipes for in San Jose’s win against Anaheim. Even when starter Martin Jones comes back from a lower-body injury, Dell should continue to be a factor for the Sharks.

• Sharks forward Mikkel Boedker had a solid night at the office, as he racked up two goals and an assist against the Ducks. That’s impressive considering he only had 12 points on the season coming into tonight’s action.

• The Kings’ power play isn’t a player, but it came to play tonight against the Rangers. Los Angeles got three goals on the man-advantage from Jake Muzzin, Michael Amadio and Tanner Pearson. Those three power play markers helped them snap their six-game losing skid.

Highlights:

Poor Markus Granlund never saw Hellebuyck coming:

That’s a pretty sweet shot from Kevin Labanc:

Here are two pretty sweet backhand passes leading up to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s goal:

Alex Ovechkin scored a power play from his favorite spot on the ice:

Non-called Penalty of the Night:

That’s a pretty dangerous hit by Dmitry Orlov on Claude Giroux. No boarding call?

Factoids:

That’s a lot of power play goals for Ovechkin:

Joe Thornton keeps movin’ on up:

The Rangers have received some balanced scoring this season:

The Golden Knights simply can’t be stopped. What a season they’re having:

Scores:

Flyers 2, Capitals 1 (OT)

Golden Knights 5, Hurricanes 1

Jets 1, Canucks 0

Sharks 6, Ducks 2

Kings 4, Rangers 2

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.

Fight Video: Kempe comes to Lewis’ defense by dropping gloves with Smith

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It’s not every day that you see Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe drop the gloves, but he did so against the Rangers tonight.

Things got chippy at the end of the first period between the Rangers and Kings. As both teams were mixing it up, New York’s Brendan Smith shoved Trevor Lewis from behind. Kempe wasn’t impressed with Smith’s move, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Here’s Smith’s shove on Lewis:

And this is the fight between Smith and Kempe:

(h/t: hayyyshayyy on Twitter)

As you can tell from the above video, Smith is the more experienced fighter. Also, Kempe has great hair, but it’s clearly not practical when dropping the gloves.

Thanks to Smith, the Kings got a power play to start the second period. Defenseman Jake Muzzin cashed in on the man-advantage to cut Los Angeles’ deficit to 2-1.

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.

Expansion Golden Knights are officially in first place (Update)

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Just like we all predicted in September, the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting in first place in the NHL.

The Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes allowed them to collect their 65th and 66th points of the season, which moved them one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the league (both teams have played 46 games).

PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote a terrific piece about Golden Knights’ amazing first season to date.

It’s only fitting that Vegas got a good amount of production from some of their most pleasant surprises tonight. Jonathan Marchessault, Colin Miller and James Neal also found the back of the net.

As you’d expect, the Golden Knights’ Twitter account is having fun marking this occasion.

“Maybe a little unexpected, right?,” Marc-Andre Fleury said of his team’s success, per NHL.com. “It’s been a lot of fun. We started this team from scratch and chemistry was built very quick between us. Every night, all the guys bring their best effort. I’m proud of our team to be where we’re at right now.”

We’ve had over three months to come to grips with everything the Golden Knights have done, but it’s still amazing to see how some of the players on their roster have produced during Vegas’ inaugural season.

 

43 points in 43 games for Marchessault? 25 goals at the midway point of the season for William Karlsson? Nobody saw those things coming. What makes this even more impressive is that they’ve had to roll four goalies (Fleury, Oscar Dansk, Malcolm Subban and Maxime Lagace).

“Early on in the year, I think we surprised some teams. Now I think every team will get up to play us. It’s just something that will be another test for this group,” Miller told NHL.com.

Now the question is, how far can this pesky expansion team go?

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.

Struggling Lightning lose Ondrej Palat for indefinite period of time

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have been going through a difficult stretch lately and things got a lot more difficult on Sunday. The team announced that Ondrej Palat is out indefinitely after taking a spear from Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon on Saturday night.

The Bolts, who are on an eight-game road trip, have confirmed that Palat will head back to Tampa on Monday for further testing. He’s accumulated eight goals and 30 points in 46 games this season.

Although the video isn’t the clearest, this is the play that led to the injury:

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the Lightning have been slumping badly of late. They’ve dropped three games in a row to Calgary, Vegas and Minnesota.

Their once giant lead atop the Atlantic Division has dwindled to three points over the Boston Bruins, who have a game in hand.

“We’re just out of synch, it’s unreal,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per The Tampa Times. “The guys didn’t forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half. We’re just out of synch. One guy zigs, the other guy zags. It’s crazy that in the last week and a half, we kind of lost our swag.”

The Bolts will continue their road trip in Chicago, Nashville and Philadelphia before the All-Star break. On top of their difficult schedule, they’ll also be without number one defenseman Victor Hedman for the next few weeks.

Their spot in the playoffs isn’t in any danger, but the number one seed in the league (Vegas is coming in a hurry) and top spot in the division is in doubt.

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.