Ilya Kovalchuk

PHT’s top 13 of ’13: Kovalchuk retires, returns to KHL

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Ilya Kovalchuk was supposed to be a Devil for the rest of his career. He was one of the team’s best forwards and poised to stay in New Jersey for the duration of his 15-year deal.

But in 2013, the plan changed. After a lockout-shortened campaign that saw him deal with injury and finish second on the team in points, he called it “probably my worst season,” then stunned the hockey world by retiring from the NHL in June.

Kovalchuk’s retirement didn’t mean he was walking away from the game itself. Rather, he was bailing on the Devils to go play back home in the KHL.

He forfeited the remainder of his $100 million contract to play for the team he suited up for during the lockout – SKA St. Petersburg. Kovalchuk’s mother said his time with SKA during the lockout inspired him to find a way to return, which he did in dramatic fashion.

Of course, he had to make sure the Devils would allow him to go. And asking the team to be OK with parting ways had to be some kind of awkward, especially after all they went through to get him. When the Devils were negotiating with Kovalchuk during the summer of 2010, they were busted for circumventing the salary cap on their first agreed-upon deal. Their punishment? Forfeiting a future first-round pick, a punishment that will come into effect at the 2014 NHL Draft.

So, what was the Devils’ motivation to part ways with Kovalchuk?

For one, they were in a financial bind as the salary cap was reduced to $64.3 million following the lockout-shortened season. They were also dealing with cash-flow issues, as then-owner Jeff Vanderbeek was seeking to sell the team. Having Kovalchuk’s monster contract on the books made both those situations more difficult.

source: Getty ImagesLamoriello agreed to let Kovalchuk go and with it controversy erupted over the Devils finding a way (again) to escape the clutches of the upper limit of the salary cap. Months later, Vanderbeek sold the team to a group led by Joshua Harris.

With Kovalchuk off the books and on his way to Russia, the Devils suddenly had money to spend — and did so by signing Jaromir Jagr and Damien Brunner to free-agent deals.

Jagr alone has helped make people forget about Kovalchuk leaving town with his handling of the press and, oh yeah, his ability to keep scoring at age 41.

As for Kovalchuk, life is good for him in Russia. SKA named him team captain and he’s essentially the face of the KHL. He’s currently eighth in the league in points, averaging over a point per game.

Anisimov out six to eight weeks after undergoing ‘successful’ wrist surgery

Chicago Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov tries to handle a rebound from Montreal Canadiens goalie Mike Condon during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Artem Anisimov on Tuesday underwent successful surgery on his injured right wrist, the Chicago Blackhawks announced.

“We anticipate his return to full hockey activities in approximately six to eight weeks,” said team physician Dr. Michael Terry in a statement.

The news comes eight days after the Blackhawks were ousted in the first round, eliminated in seven games by the St. Louis Blues.

Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in last summer’s blockbuster deal for Brandon Saad, the 27-year-old Anisimov enjoyed the second 20-goal season of his career and fell just two points shy of his previous career best of 44 when he was with the New York Rangers.

He played the bulk of this season on a line with two highly skilled players in Patrick Kane, the league-leader in points with 106, and Artemi Panarin, named as a Calder Trophy finalist on Monday.

Prior to his surgery, Anisimov was named to Russia’s preliminary roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, although the recovery schedule should allow plenty of time for Anisimov to be physically ready for the tournament when it begins in September.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks, who won’t be champs in 2016

With Letang suspended, Schultz out to ‘prove a lot of people wrong’ if he gets the call in Game 4

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The Pittsburgh Penguins may hold a 2-1 series lead over the rival Washington Capitals, but they will be without defenseman Kris Letang for a pivotal Game 4 on Wednesday.

Perhaps for the Capitals, the absence of Letang — suspended one game for a high, late hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3 — on the Penguins blue line can provide an opportunity to help swing the series back in their favor heading to Washington and home ice in Game 5.

“He’s the backbone of their defense,” Capitals blue liner Karl Alzner told CSN Mid-Atlantic.

“He goes back for pucks and gets them out of his zone with a pass or a flip. He transitions the puck and logs key minutes on their PP.”

In addition to seven points in eight games this post-season, which puts him into a tie for third among defensemen in the playoffs, Letang is also among the leaders in ice time, averaging 29:13 per game.

So yes, that’s a significant loss at this juncture of the series, even if for one game.

The Penguins were already without Olli Maatta for Game 3. He was injured on that late, high hit from Brooks Orpik. That forced Derrick Pouliot into the lineup for Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old Justin Schultz, who the Penguins acquired from Edmonton earlier this season, figures to be next in line for Pittsburgh with Letang out.

Schultz entered the league with plenty of hype surrounding him, billed as a dynamic offensive defenseman. But nothing seemed to pan out for him in Edmonton, there were growing concerns about his play in his own end, and his time there ended with a trade prior to the deadline.

This could mean added minutes, too, for Trevor Daley, who played 22:20 in Game 3.

Between Pouliot and Schultz, they have a combined two games worth of Stanley Cup playoff experience.

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

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The National Hockey League has suspended Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang one game for a high, late hit on Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson during Game 3.

The incident occurred late in the first period of Monday’s game, as Johansson had passed the puck off after entering the Pittsburgh zone. Letang was given a minor penalty for interference.

“After Johansson moves the puck, Letang delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact,” stated the league’s Department of Player Safety in a video.

“It is important to note that Johansson is not eligible to be checked on this play. Players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.”

The DoPS did state that Letang didn’t leave his feet making the hit, but that they leave the ice due to the “force of the hit.”

“This is also not an illegal check to the head,” it states in the video. “While there is significant head contact here, the head is not the main point of contact.”

Following the game, both Letang and Johansson broke down the hit for the media, but of course, both had totally different opinions of what occurred.

The Penguins lead the series 2-1 and have the opportunity to take a stranglehold with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Of course, without Letang, that task gets even more difficult.

Meanwhile, the bad blood between the rival Penguins and Capitals continues. This series has already run afoul of the DoPS, with the Orpik suspension and Tom Wilson receiving a fine for kneeing Conor Sheary.

Ruff ‘not telling’ who will start tonight for Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Some intrigue in St. Louis, where Antti Niemi was the first Stars netminder off the ice this morning, only for Lindy Ruff to tell the media that tonight’s starter would be Kari Lehtonen.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Ruff told reporters, “I’m not telling you who’s starting, so don’t ask.”

Typically, whichever goalie leaves the morning skate first is the starter.

But then, typically, a team doesn’t have a two-goalie system in the playoffs, so perhaps we should’t assume anything at this point. 

All we know for sure is that Lehtonen started the first two games of this series. He played well in Game 1, a 2-1 Stars victory, but got pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals on just five shots.

Niemi, meanwhile, was solid in relief in Game 2, allowing just one goal — David Backeswinner in overtime — on 20 shots. For that reason, many figured Ruff would turn to Niemi for Game 3, just like he turned to Niemi for Games 4 and 5 in the first round against Minnesota.

 

But, apparently, we’ll have to wait and see for sure.