KHL

Ilya Kovalchuk signs one-year, $700K contract with Canadiens

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Ilya Kovalchuk has a new home for the rest of the season and it will be with the Montreal Canadiens.

The team announced on Friday that they have signed the 36-year-old Russian forward to a one-year, two-way deal worth $700,000. The Canadiens also noted that the deal is worth $70,000 in the AHL, but if this partnership goes that bad we’ll probably see another mutual termination like what happened in LA.

“We’re trying to improve the team in the short-term without hurting the organization in the long-term,” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said on Friday. “You have high-risk, medium-risk and no-risk moves. Bringing Kovy to Montreal, there’s no risk.”

Kovalchuk’s time with the Kings ended last month after a lackluster 81 games over the last two season. He signed a three-year, $18.75M deal in 2018 after spending five years in the KHL and mustered over 19 goals and 43 points in LA. The marriage came to an end after being put on unconditional waivers as the team was terminating his deal.

Since he signed the contract as a 35-plus player, Kovalchuk’s $6.25M cap hit stays on the Kings’ books through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season, per Cap Friendly.

The Canadiens, currently missing Jonathan DrouinBrendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, and Paul Byron, sit seven points out of the last Eastern Conference wild card spot and are desperate to make a second-half push. This move by Bergevin allows him to try something without giving up assets in return. If Kovalchuk doesn’t work, then that could open the door for a trade or two. A third straight spring without playoff hockey would up the temperature on the GMs seat and likely mean big offseason changes for the franchise.

“I’m trying to help them in the short-term to stay in the playoff race until our injured players come back,” said Bergevin. “Those guys probably won’t return before the All-Star break. That’s the main reason why we signed him this morning.”

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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.

Smith-Pelly joins KHL’s Kunlun Red Star on one-year deal

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After failing to catch on with the Flames in training camp, Devante Smith-Pelly has signed on with Kunlun Red Star of the KHL on a one-year deal.

The 27-year-old forward split time between the Capitals and their AHL affiliate last season. After being waived and sent down in February, he joined the Hershey Bears and scored six times and registered 14 points in 20 games. In 54 games with the Capitals, Smith-Pelly recorded eight points and was pointless in three playoff games. 

It wasn’t the easiest of seasons for Smith-Pelly in 2018-19 coming off a Stanley Cup Final where he scored three times against the Golden Knights. He couldn’t find a regular spot in Todd Reirden’s lineup and the Capitals declined to re-sign him in the summer. The Flames brought him into training camp last month on a tryout deal but released him after he went pointless in four games.

Kunlun Red Star is based in Beijing, China and coached by former NHL player and head coach Curt Fraser. 

Smith-Pelly isn’t the only player on the roster with NHL ties. You might recall names like Gilbert Brule, Adam Cracknell, Wojtek Wolski, Griffin Reinhart, Brandon Yip, and Andrej Sustr. There are also two sons of former stars in the league with David Bondra Jake Chelios featuring.

In other KHL news, four days after signing a tryout deal, former Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov has signed a one-year deal with Lokomotiv.

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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.

Andrei Markov heads back to KHL on tryout deal

Veteran defender Andrei Markov has been hoping to make a return to the NHL after spending the past two seasons playing in the KHL, but it appears as if those plans will remain on hold.

The KHL announced on Thursday that Markov has signed a professional tryout contract with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Markov played for Kazan Ak-Bars the past two seasons, tallying seven goals and 47 points in 104 regular season games.

Markov, now 40, spent his entire 16-year career with the Montreal Canadiens and was hoping to make a return to the team this season but the feeling never seemed to be mutual.

“Two years ago, his contract was due, we made an offer,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin told Canada’s RDS back in September. “Efforts were made to sign it and he chose another direction that was KHL. It was two years ago. Since that time, things have changed. The player has aged. The organization has changed direction. We have a lot of young people growing up.”

Markov’s agent said back in August that five teams had checked in on Markov’s availability and that he was seeking a one-year deal.

He is 10 games shy of playing his 1,000th game in the NHL, something that would be a nice milestone for what has been an extremely productive career. When he was at his best and not limited by injury (he had terrible injury luck for a three-year run between 2009 and 2012) Markov was an outstanding player and big point producer from the Canadiens’ blue line. Even in his last NHL season he had 36 points and a 54 percent Corsi rating in 66 games as a 38-year-old. Not exactly a small accomplishment.

Unfortunately for Markov there did not seem to be much of a market this year (at least not yet) for a 40-year-old defender.

The only players in the NHL over the age of 38 this season are Zdeno Chara (42), Patrick Marleau (40), Joe Thornton (40), and Ron Hainsey (38). Chara and Hainsey are the only defenders.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Russian hockey team fined for coach’s arson threat

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MOSCOW — A Russian hockey team has been fined after its coach threatened to set fire to a referee’s car.

The Kontinental Hockey League fined Amur Khabarovsk 300,000 rubles ($4,700) after coach Alexander Gulyavtsev shouted ”I’m going to set fire to your car in Perm,” a reference to the Russian city where both he and referee Viktor Gashilov are from.

Gulyavtsev was protesting a penalty awarded against his team in Monday’s game against Dynamo Moscow.

Gulyavtsev later claimed he meant the comments as ”a joke,” adding that ”I just said car, it’s not as if I said apartment.”

However, the KHL ruled the comments breached its rules on insulting and threatening officials. The league warned Amur that cases like this ”tarnish the image” of the league.

Dynamo Moscow won 5-1.

Devils GM doesn’t care if Zacha considers signing with KHL

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero says he is still attempting to sign center Pavel Zacha amid concerns the former first-round draft pick will play in the Kontinental Hockey League this season.

Peppering his comments with profanities, Shero told The Associated Press on Monday that he doesn’t care if Zacha signs with the KHL, a Russian-based pro league, with Brampton, an ECHL team, or anywhere else. Shero says the Devils still retain the restricted free agent’s rights after issuing him a qualifying offer this summer, and he hopes to get a deal completed with training camp opening this week.

Shero says he’s unaware if Zacha has signed with a KHL team, though he adds that possibility was raised by the player’s agent during a recent conversation.

Shero says playing in the KHL is ”not the advice I would give him,” and adds ”it’s a long way back to the NHL” if Zacha goes that route.

Zacha’s agent, Patrik Stefan, did not immediately respond to several messages from the AP seeking comment.

Shero called Zacha an ”important player” entering a key year in his development. He spoke while watching the Devils’ third and final game at the Sabres’ prospects tournament in Buffalo.

The 22-year-old Zacha is from the Czech Republic and had a career-best 13 goals in 61 games last season. Overall, he has 29 goals and 47 assists for 76 points in 201 career NHL games.