Author: Joe Yerdon

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.

Penguins send down Zolnierczyk and Samuelsson

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers

After filling in admirably for five games, a pair of young Pittsburgh Penguins are headed back to the farm.

The Penguins announced they’ve reassigned forward Harry Zolnierczyk and defenseman Philip Samuelsson to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL.

Both players played in the past five games for the Pens between Dec. 16 and Dec. 23. Zolnierczyk made the most of his return to the NHL scoring a goal against Calgary on Saturday.

Question here is: Are they headed down just for the holiday or will any of their numerous injured players be returning after Christmas?

Sharks GM Wilson ‘disappointed’ by Brown’s lack of concern for Hertl

Doug Wilson

The news of San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl going in for surgery on his injured knee after a collision with Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown has the Sharks feeling disappointed for the kid.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson has another gripe about the whole situation, however. He doesn’t like that Kings have, essentially, hurt one of his players and had no remorse in doing so as Kevin Kurz of shares.

“Having played in this league a long time…when I was a rookie, I was tripped into a net in Hartford by the great Gordie Howe, and injured and carried off the ice,” Wilson said. “He came in between periods all the way around the rink to make sure I was OK. So, my response to the lack of, maybe, concern towards our player, is disappointing.”

Obviously that was a while ago and times have changed. Instead of visiting between periods, guys text each other or actually make a phone call. Sometimes they’ll visit after the game, but sometimes that doesn’t go over so well.

If Wilson was hoping Brown would show up with a fruit basket or singing telegram for Hertl for knocking him out of action, Wilson would be waiting for a while.

There’s nothing wrong with looking for concern, but sometimes players have a funny way of going about it.