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.

Video: Calls go Penguins’ way early in Game 1; own goal plagues Predators

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However you feel about the context of each call, it’s tough to deny that some big decisions ended up going favorably early for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

To start, a would-be 1-0 goal by P.K. Subban was waved off thanks to Filip Forsberg being deemed offside. More on that here.

In a rare span, the Predators were whistled for two penalties during the same sequence in the first period, giving the Penguins a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes. Pittsburgh started off the advantage a little rocky, but then Evgeni Malkin made it 1-0. (Video of that tally in the headline above.)

The controversy comes as Sidney Crosby seemed to get away with interference/elbow shortly before that goal was scored. That sequence will feed a conspiracy theory or two.

The Predators have managed to avoid tough stretches for much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but things seemed to really escalate from there. The Penguins managed three goals in a staggering 4:11 of game time, with Nick Bonino putting a puck off Mattias Ekholm for a painful own goal, making it 3-0 as the first period concluded.

The Penguins seemed to take control of the game after that disallowed goal, adding to the argument that some combination of the decision and the slowdown helped turn the tide.

How will the Predators respond to this adversity in Game 1? Find out on NBC and via the stream below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Subban goal waved off hours after Bettman defends offside challenges

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The Nashville Predators were controlling the play early in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, showing little concern for the big stage of Game 1. It looked like that early edge would come with the reward of a P.K. Subban 1-0 goal.

(Subban had to feel that much more satisfied as he was being booed early and often by Penguins fans in Pittsburgh.)

But, alas, the dreaded goal review negated such a goal, as it was determined that Filip Forsberg was offside. You can watch the process in the video above, while this is a GIF of the moment in question.

As a reminder, Gary Bettman said all the right things about reviews working “exactly as they are intended to” mere hours ago, even as snarky folks make snarky jokes about a rapid contest being interrupted by replays that … might not entertain everyone.

Whether the NHL likes it or not, this will be a talking point for many.

Updated Stanley Cup Final lineups: Carl Hagelin, Colin Wilson out in Game 1

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PHT provided early looks at what the Nashville Predators’ and Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineups might look like, and those viewpoints ended up being mostly correct.

That’s especially true when it comes to the Penguins. As expected, Carl Hagelin will not suit up for the Penguins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Patric Hornqvist indeed returns while Jake Guentzel avoids a healthy scratch.

Here’s the lines that Pittsburgh listed on Twitter:

The Predators provide a surprise, however, as Colin Wilson is not in the mix. Instead, the Predators will have Craig Smith and Mike Fisher in the lineup.

Game 1 is just minutes from beginning. Check it out on NBC or stream it via the link below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Daly addresses Voynov potentially returning to Kings

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An interesting development on Monday, prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final — following Gary Bettman’s state of the league address, deputy commissioner Bill Daly was asked about the possibility of former Kings d-man Slava Voynov returning to the NHL.

Voynov hasn’t played in L.A. since the ’14-15 campaign, when he was suspended indefinitely while facing domestic violence charges.

“If that was ever something that was proposed, we’re on record as saying that would require a proceeding before the commissioner,” Daly said, when asked about Voynov’s possible return.

When asked if Voynov had “served his time,” Daly offered the following:

“Ultimately that’s not my decision, that’ll be Gary’s decision.

“I don’t want to speculate either on what that might be. I’ve heard from time to time that he might have an interest in coming back to the National Hockey League, but that hasn’t advanced in any material way to this point.

“So let’s wait and see if it happens.”

The Voynov topic arose when a reporter asked Daly about the league’s stance, on the understanding that “at one point, the Kings were considering trying to bring [Voynov] back.”

That came on the heels of a report from John Hoven of Mayor’s Manor, who said Kings management and scouts had seen Voynov play “multiple times” this season.

In July of 2015, Voynov pleaded no contest to a reduced misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Months later, he returned to his native Russia and signed a three-year pact with SKA Saint Petersburg.

The move freed L.A. from Voynov’s $4.16 million average annual cap hit. Per The OC Register, Voynov’s decision to “self-depart” the U.S. may have kept the door open for a return to North America at some point in the future.

In October, Team Russia tried to include Voynov on its active roster for the World Cup of Hockey, claiming it was in negotiations with the league on the matter. The NHL eventually ruled him ineligible — “our position was the NHL suspension disqualified him,” Daly explained — and he was eventually replaced by Bolts blueliner Nikita Nesterov.