Ilya Kovalchuk

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


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.

Lightning lament life as a .500 team

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have plenty of time to rise above mediocrity, yet it still must be deserving to finish at .500 for two straight months.

After last night’s 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders, that’s exactly where they find themselves:

Record at the end of October: 5-5-2

Record at the end of November: 11-11-3

As of this writing, the Lightning found themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. It all stands as a pretty tough thing for the reigning Eastern Conference champs to swallow.

The uncomfortable-yet-vital question is: can the Lightning break out of this funk?

Looking at their schedule, it won’t be easy, at least not right away.

They crawl through California during a three-game road trip to start December, and they also face six of eight on the road from Dec. 2 – 18.

The Lightning soak up home dates to finish 2015 after that, but what damage will be done by then?

Frankly, the Bolts will need to dig deep to break this pattern. If nothing else, they’ve fought with their backs against the wall before.

Dubinsky won’t change, and he won’t go easy on Crosby


Sometimes a suspension will shame a player, or at least inspire him to change the way he plays.

That apparently won’t happen regarding Brandon Dubinsky‘s one-game timeout session for cross-checking Sidney Crosby.

Dubinsky told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch that he won’t alter his style, whether it’s against Crosby or someone else.

“Nope,” Dubinsky said. “You know, I’ve played the same way my whole career and I’m not going to change. The next time I have an opportunity to play (Crosby), I’m going to play him hard.”

In case you’re wondering, that next opportunity comes on Dec. 21 in Pittsburgh, assuming that both players are healthy and not suspended.

One can understand Dubinsky’s perspective, although such honesty would be that much more interesting if there’s another incident with Crosby. His initial reaction to the hit was interestingly candid, admitting that his “stick rode up” on his adversary.

Would that stance – which, from a harsher view, might seem flippant to Dubinsky’s critics – open the door for a bigger future bit of a discipline?

Maybe, maybe not … but at least his comments aren’t as inflammatory as what John Tortorella said (at least on the record).

Bad news for Boedker: Coyotes won’t face Sens again in 2015-16


Sorry Mikkel Boedker, you won’t get to face the Ottawa Senators again this season.

OK, it could happen if the speedster is traded from the Arizona Coyotes. He could also face the Senators in the unlikely instance that the two teams fight it out in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Beyond those two possibilities, Saturday night was it, and Boedker must have been licking his chops much like an actual coyote.

For the second straight game, Boedker managed a hat trick against the Senators, helping Arizona beat Ottawa 4-3 last night. His third tally stood as the game-winner in a 4-3 victory.

You can watch all three goals in the video above.

It’s oddly fitting that Boedker has three goals this season … against teams not named the Ottawa Senators.

Hey, Tortorella called the Penguins whiners again

John Tortorella

Don’t forget, the Blue Jackets – Penguins rivalry isn’t just about the bitterness between Sidney Crosby and Brandon Dubinsky; John Tortorella can fuel the fire, too.

Torts must not have been happy about the one-game suspension that Dubinsky received for cross-checking Crosby, as he channeled his vintage self in essentially calling the Penguins a bunch of whiners.

You can see from this glorious Sportsnet video, Tortorella said: “Pittsburgh whines enough for the whole league.”

(He also said the Blue Jackets weren’t going to whine by … whining. Good stuff.)

As Puck Daddy notes, this isn’t the first time Torts claimed that the Penguins are whiners.

Both the Blue Jackets and Penguins lost their games on Saturday, but clearly some eyes and ears were still focused on their last confrontation.

In case you’re wondering, the two teams next face off in Pittsburgh on Dec. 21.