KHL

No NHL return for Pavel Datsyuk, who signs one-year deal to stay in KHL

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If there was a glimmer of hope that Pavel Datsyuk might return to the NHL for 2020-21, that is now gone. Datsyuk signed a one-year deal with Yekaterinburg Automobilist (or Ekaterinburg Avtomobilist) keeping the former Red Wings star in the KHL.

Considering that Datsyuk will turn 42 on July 20, we may have seen the last of him in the NHL.

For one thing, playing close to home appeals to the veteran forward. It’s also possible to wonder how many NHL teams would be interested in the 42-year-old. Datsyuk’s already four seasons removed from the NHL (spending three with St. Petersburg SKA, and this past with Automobilist).

After putting up some pretty strong offensive numbers from 2016-17 to 2018-19 with SKA, Datsyuk’s numbers dipped this past season. He scored five goals and 22 points in 43 KHL games, although he managed four points in as many playoff contests.

Then again, most hockey fans attest that scoring numbers only tell part of what made Datsyuk a “magic man.”

It’s difficult to find “fancy stats” for the KHL, so it’s difficult to tell if Datsyuk remains a two-way standout. (It certainly would be difficult for anyone — even Datsyuk — to approach his peak-level work at an advanced age.)

But, frankly, it would have been a delight to see Datsyuk put together an NHL farewell tour. Even a diminished Datsyuk. Consider how fun it was to see Ilya Kovalchuk score some big-time goals during his redemptive run with the Canadiens.

That said, it’s easy to see why Datsyuk decided to stay in the KHL. Even if he was holding out hope for an NHL return, who knows if the league will be able to hold a 2020-21 season (in December, or otherwise)?

Datsyuk staying in KHL, not returning to NHL, is coherent part of a strange summer

It’s already been an odd summer of sorts for Datsyuk. M Live’s Ansar Khan points out that Datsyuk’s agent Dan Milstein shot down rumors about Datsyuk being … “holed up” at a monastery that had been seized by “Father Sergei,” a priest pushing a COVID-19 conspiracy?

Milstein tweeted this:

After these rumors circulated:

It all seems strange, either way. But then again, so is 2020.

Datsyuk not returning to the NHL? That’s not nearly as odd — quite understandable, actually — but it’s still a bit of a bummer.

How about a fun exercise to fill your time? If he returned to the NHL, but not with the rebuilding Red Wings, where would he make sense? (Even parsing through hypotheticals doesn’t keep this from being a bummer, though.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Pilut skips on Sabres by signing 2-year contract in Russia

BUFFALO, N.Y., — Buffalo Sabres defenseman Lawrence Pilut is forgoing a chance to continue his NHL career by signing a two-year contract with Russia’s Chelyabinsk Traktor.

The signing was announced by the Kontinental Hockey League team Tuesday, and comes after Pilut had difficulty establishing a regular role over the past two years in Buffalo. The Traktor said in a release that Pilut was offered an opportunity to enjoy more playing time in Russia.

The Sabres can’t block the signing, because their season officially ended two weeks ago when the NHL approved going ahead with a 24-team expanded playoff format, which eliminated Buffalo.

Because Pilut was eligible to become a restricted free agent, the Sabres can still retain his NHL rights through the next three years by issuing him a qualifying offer.

The 24-year-old Swedish-born player spent the past two years splitting time between the Sabres and their minor-league affiliate. Pilut had no points while limited to playing 13 games with Buffalo last season under first-year coach Ralph Krueger.

Overall, he had a goal and six points in 46 NHL career games, and 10 goals, 49 points in 67 games with AHL Rochester.

The playmaking, undersized defenseman was a highly touted free agent when he signed with Buffalo two years ago. The 5-foot-11 Pilut made the jump to the NHL following a season in which he was the Swedish Hockey League’s defenseman of the year after leading blue liners with 30 assists and 38 points.

KHL hopes to start 2020-21 season on Sept. 2

The Kontinental Hockey League says it plans to return on Sept. 2 to open the 2020-21 season.

The last KHL game was played on March 12. The season was then suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The KHL is widely considered to be the strongest hockey league outside the NHL. It ended its 2019-20 season partway through the playoffs without declaring a champion.

The league says Sept. 2 is a preliminary date that could be subject to “necessary corrections” depending on how the coronavirus situation develops.

International travel restrictions became a problem for KHL teams. The league has teams in six countries but most are in Russia.

The projected Sept. 2 start date is broadly in line with other recent KHL seasons.

KHL will not name champion, award Gagarin Cup

After pulling the plug on the 2019-20 season in March, the KHL has decided there will be no champion and the Gagarin Cup will not be awarded for the first time in league history.

Due to this decision, the league has equally ranked the eight teams that advanced to the second round of the playoffs: Ak Bars Kazan, Barys Nur-Sultan, CSKA Moscow, Dynamo Moscow, Jokerit Helsinki, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Sibir Novosibirsk, and SKA St. Petersburg.

From the KHL:

With the season incomplete, there is no way that a Gagarin Cup winner and other prize winners can be fairly chosen based on the results of the regular season. To announce a champion based on the regular season and one round of the playoffs would violate the sporting integrity of the competition.

The Russian Hockey Federation has drawn up a separate procedure to determine the Russian Champion for the 2019-20 season, and to award silver and bronze medals to the second and third-placed teams. This proposal will be submitted to the KHL Board of Directors for approval.

The Gagarin Cup playoffs were halted in the conference semifinals after Jokerit and Barys pulled out due to the coronavirus pandemic. Originally, the KHL was planning for a one-week break to come up with a new format for the four remaining teams. They later chose to end the season completely.

“I’m sure that the league has taken a fair and balanced decision in this difficult situation,” said KHL president Alexei Morozov. “This was the only choice that respects our sporting principles. For the first time in history, the KHL season had to be interrupted and ultimately curtailed. That was a tough, but essential decision, dictated by the need to protect the health of the nation.”

MORE: Bill Peters signs two-year deal to coach KHL’s Avtomobilist

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Maple Leafs create intrigue by signing Mikko Lehtonen

Maple Leafs sign signing Mikko Lehtonen KHL
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The Toronto Maple Leafs made an interesting signing by landing defenseman Mikko Lehtonen.

Lehtonen, 26, topped all KHL defensemen with 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists) this season. Not surprisingly, Lehtonen represented Jokerit as a KHL All-Star. The Maple Leafs website notes that the KHL tabbed Lehtonen as defenseman of the month for three months in a row.

Jokerit director of player personnel (and NHL Central Scouting chief European scout) Janne Vuorinen raved about Lehtonen to Post Media’s Michael Traikos.

“I think his style fits well for Toronto,” Vuorinen said. “Torey Krug is a good comparison. He runs the power play well and gets pucks to the net with a good wrist shot. He was the best player in Europe, IMO. He’s ready to play in the NHL.”

Why the Maple Leafs signing Lehtonen is intriguing

You could call this an intriguing signing for a number of reasons:

  • The Maple Leafs managed to sign Lehtonen despite what Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston deemed “a long list of suitors.” Fans may delight in the belief that Lehtonen seemingly chose the Maple Leafs over the Canadiens.
  • Johnston reports that the Maple Leafs convinced Lehtonen to sign without any performance bonuses involved.
  • On paper, Lehtonen creates quite the logjam of left-handed defensemen.

Stretching back to 2018-19, Toronto’s deployed an abundance of LHD. Some of the names changed, but the puzzle remains.

To summarize: the Maple Leafs obviously will emphasize Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin. From there, the Maple Leafs also have emerging defenseman Rasmus Sandin, pending RFA Travis Dermott, and now Lehtonen.

(It makes me wonder, at least a little bit, if Lehtonen really looked at Toronto as the easiest path to regular playing time.)

Could this be it for, say, Dermott? Might the Maple Leafs aim for a trade to balance things out a bit more on the right side?

Toronto seems willing to roll with defensemen playing on their off-side, if nothing else. While those scenarios don’t always feel optimized, sometimes it’s better to just put together as much talent as possible, and hope the other details work themselves out.

Getting possibly the best defenseman not playing in the NHL, and doing so with a cap-friendly deal? This seems like strong work by GM Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.