Ilya Kovalchuk

Ilya Kovalchuk might just climb into Hart Trophy argument

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As far as go-to whipping boys go, Ilya Kovalchuk provides a desirable target for critics. Let’s go over the checklist:

  • He’s not Canadian or American* (check)
  • Bloated $100 million contract (check)
  • Lack of playoff success (check)

For a good chunk of his stay in New Jersey, “underwhelming performance” was one of those bullet points, but there’s no sense making that argument anymore.

Kovalchuk scored his first hat trick as a member of the Devils tonight to trigger a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Such a performance makes me wonder aloud: is Kovalchuk inching his way into the Hart Trophy discussion?

Scoring

In the past, the only measuring stick for his success could be found in scoring. He’s holding up his end of the bargain in that regard, as Kovalchuk has 25 goals and 56 points. Those 56 points are good for ninth overall in the NHL, but in the context of the New Jersey Devils offense, it’s even more impressive; Kovalchuk has factored into 35.4 percent of the team’s goals this season.

Increased versatility

Kovalchuk is called upon to do more than just fill the net in New Jersey, though. His 24:48 minutes per game ranks 16th among all NHL skaters and No. 1 in the forward ranks.

It’s not just “glory boy” time, either, as he’s killing penalties for more than a minute (1:10) per contest. That’s not going to get him in the running for the Selke – and teammate Zach Parise nearly doubles his PK time average with 2:10 per game – but it still shows that he’s bringing more to the table than many might expect.

Not quite there yet

If I was part of the voting process, Kovalchuk wouldn’t be in my top three. He might not even be in my top 10 right now – but that could change if he stays hot.

That probably doesn’t matter a whole lot to the Devils, though, as that $100 million deal is only looking half-crazy right now (by my estimation). Where does Kovalchuk rank on your list, though?

* – Look, I don’t like it either, but you’d be naive to believe that there aren’t some pundits who let their “nationalist” colors fly.

Therrien refutes report that Price is likely done for the season

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Contrary to a report by La Presse newspaper, Montreal head coach Michel Therrien says that Canadiens goalie Carey Price could still play again this season.

“We know what’s going on with Carey,” Therrien told reporters today. “It takes more time, obviously, than we were expecting. Like I said, he’s working extremely hard and he’s put in a lot of hours to make sure that he’s going to make that comeback. The fact that he’s working extremely hard is not to make sure that he’s going to look good this summer on the beach; he wants to come back and play for the Montreal Canadiens.”

That being said, Price does not appear close to a return. He’s yet to practice with teammates. He’s yet to even skate in goalie gear.

The Habs have 27 games left to get back into a playoff spot. They close out the regular season on April 9, less than two months from today.

Related: With Price possibly done for the season, Scrivens has Dubnyk-like opportunity

With trade deadline approaching, Canucks announce Edler out 6 weeks, Sutter 6-8 weeks

Washington Capitals v Vancouver Canucks
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The Vancouver Canucks announced today that they’ll be without defenseman Alex Edler (fractured fibula) for six weeks and center Brandon Sutter (broken jaw that required surgery) for six to eight weeks.

So basically those two are gone for the remainder of regular season, save for possibly a few games at the tail end of the schedule.

For a bubble team that doesn’t boast a ton of depth, the injuries are significant. Edler leads the Canucks in ice time, averaging almost 25 minutes per game. Sutter, arguably their best defensive center, already missed a big chunk of games earlier in the season following sports-hernia surgery.

But GM Jim Benning still isn’t giving up on the playoffs. Yesterday, he went on Vancouver radio and suggested the Canucks could actually be buyers at the trade deadline.

Benning only has a couple of weeks to decide what to do with pending unrestricted free agents defenseman Dan Hamhuis and winger Radim Vrbata. The trade deadline is Feb. 29.

The Canucks, currently just two points back of Nashville for the final wild-card spot, have a pair of winnable games coming up. They host Toronto Saturday and Minnesota Monday.

Related: Preds entering key (and tough) stretch before trade deadline

Jets activate Pavelec from IR, send Hellebuyck back to minors

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Winnipeg’s goalie of the future is off to continue his development in the AHL.

On Friday, the Jets activated veteran netminder Ondrej Pavelec from injured reserve and, in a subsequent move, sent rookie netminder Connor Hellebuyck back to their affiliate in Manitoba.

Hellebuyck, 22, arrived in Winnipeg with great fanfare, having starred for Team USA at the 2015 Worlds while being named an AHL All-Star as well.

This was his first-ever stint with the Jets, and it went OK — Hellebuyck posted an 13-11-1 record, .918 save percentage and 2.34 GAA — but he did struggle of late, getting hooked in two of his last three outings.

Now, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Pavelec.

His numbers prior to getting hurt weren’t any better than Hellebuyck’s — .906 save percentage, 2.82 GAA — and there will be considerable rust to knock off, given he’s been out since late November with a knee issue.

There’s also the long-term implication.

Pavelec, a lightning rod for criticism over the last few seasons, has one year left on his five-year, $19.5 million extension, meaning he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July of ’17.

It could be his last season in Winnipeg (assuming he’s not bought out of the final year of his deal), which makes one wonder what GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has in store.

It’s also worth noting there’s a third goalie in this equation: Michael Hutchinson, who’s a pending RFA.

Kuznetsov passed concussion test, expected to play Saturday

Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov, from Russia, celebrates his goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in Washington. The Capitals won 5-3. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Feel free to breath a sigh of relief, Capitals fans — Evgeny Kuznetsov is okay.

“During the end of the third period, Evgeny underwent and passed all tests pertaining to the league’s concussion protocol evaluation,” the Caps said today in a statement. “We expect him to take the morning skate tomorrow and play against the Stars later that night.”

Kuznetsov left last night’s game versus the Wild in the third period after appearing to take the butt-end of Mikael Granlund’s stick to the face.

Kuznetsov leads the Caps with 54 points.