Archive for the Category ◊ Unrestricted free agency ◊

07 Jul 2012 Seeing Red Over Semin Slams
Alexander Semin

A face the (Canadian) media loves to hate — why?

It looks like TSN/NBC analyst Pierre McGuire is up to his old tricks.  Once again he has taken the opportunity to lambast long-time Capitals winger Alexander Semin.

On the July 1 “Free Agent Frenzy” show on Canada’s TSN (and simulcast on the NHL Network), McGuire and the apparently anti-Semin panel launched a blistering attack on the Russian, who is now a free agent.

The firebombing started with ex-NHL coach-turned-analyst Marc Crawford who referred to Semin as “a loser,” without giving a single reason why he deserved such an appellation (barring Crawford’s own disdain for him).  He continued the barrage, saying that although Semin’s point production was greater than fellow UFA Zach Parise’s, he does not help his team at all, while Parise helps “in every way.”

Marc, could you be a little more vague with those comments?  Is there any proof to this accusation, or did a Russian rub you the wrong way at some point in your career?  Because, calling somebody names on a national network simply isn’t professional journalism.

Not wanting to miss his chance to bash Semin, McGuire eagerly jumped in with equal venom, saying he  ”is not a great teammate” and describing him as the “ultimate coach killer.”  Aren’t you being a bit melodramatic, Pierre?

Clearly, McGuire has a short memory.  He sang Semin’s praises during one of the better playoff runs the Capitals have had in years.  In fact, Semin was the talk of the NHL during the first round as we reported on this website in April.

Playoff performance aside, lets look at the stats.   Semin been an amazingly solid producer since he arrived in Washington.  Looking at his numbers, one would never guess that he has been riddled with injuries each year.  He has done everything his coaches have asked him to do.  And he has even been hailed as “caring too much” by his former general manager George McPhee.

He has been a loyal teammate.  He is never late to practice.  He does what is asked of him and doesn’t argue with the coach or management.  He’s not a prima donna with huge demands, nor does he expect special treatment.  One can’t even accuse him of being a one-way player, as he’s proved that this certainly isn’t the case.  No, he simply wants to play.

Why then, do members of the Canadian media wage war against this player?  They certainly would never talk about one of their “own” this way, no matter how detrimental that person was to their team.  It would be unacceptable.  Why is this any different?

Pierre McGuire

Members of the Canadian media, including Pierre McGuire, seem to enjoy denigrating Russian players.

Maybe Semin turned down a request for an interview or perhaps he refused to give McGuire his private mobile number so they could exchange text messages and give Pierre another name to drop.  Or maybe his discomfort with the English language makes him somehow less human and, therefore, easier to excoriate.  Or, as I’ve often thought, there may be a more sinister reason for trying to ruin his reputation.  The NHL is still very much an Old Boys club, and anyone different is not well received.

Whether they are motivated by xenophobia or some other reason, the attacks on Semin’s character are unacceptable and unethical behavior on the part of TSN’s “expert” panel.  Yet I don’t see it stopping any time soon.  Bashing Russians seems to be a time-honored tradition in certain circles and it seems the people who do it will not be happy until all of the Russians have gone home to the Kontinental Hockey League.  And while Semin is far too talented to play in that league, Sergei Fedorov, the new GM for CSKA Moscow has said he will make a play for him.

Yes, the Cold War still rages on the ice.  It’s time for a change.  It’s time for the old ideas of what a Russian player is to change.  It’s time for some in the Canadian media to forget the contentiousness of the 1972 Summit Series, get with the times and do some rethinking.  Do those old stereotypes of the stoic, unfeeling, passionless Russian still apply?  And, perhaps more importantly, did they ever?  Until this relatively small, but influential segment of Canada’s press corps is willing to look at their own biased attitudes and commit themselves to a little fairness, I fear hockey slip further into the realm of “niche sport.”  Certain big name, absurdly suited and coiffed commentators are already laughingstocks.  It’s time for a change, before the sport we love becomes one too.

Photographs:  Alexander Semin by Geneen Pipher/Hockey VIPs Magazine; Pierre McGuire from Wiki Commons. 


09 Aug 2010 Ex-Thrashers, Current Drama Queens

Kovalchuk Kilt

Too late to break out Kovalchuk's Kombat Kilt? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, divas dress to kill.

I have to say I gasped, then laughed like crazy when I saw the latest in Ilya-gate. The arbiter ruled in favor of the National Hockey League! WHAT?! As the late, great Johnny Carson would no-doubt have said (if he’d been a hockey fan), “that’s some weird, wild stuff.”

What is it with these ex-Atlanta Thrashers who become drama queens when they leave the team? Maybe Kovy has always been a bit of a diva (yeah, he has been), but we’ve had a string of interesting former Thrasher players all mixed up in the drama: Hossa-gate (and all the unnecessary rudeness surrounding it, of which I disapproved), Dany-gate (and all the rudeness that he did deserve), now this. A high-profile player cannot leave the Thrashers without drama ensuing — either immediately, during or after his departure. (So we stand on alert waiting for Kari Lehtonen to implode, get thrown from a bucking bronco at a dive bar in Dallas and tweak his groin, or eat himself into a fast food coma.)

Kovy, Kovy, Kovy. You could have avoided all of this ages ago by just taking the sweetheart deal the Thrashers begged you to sign.

This is all very amusing to me. Is it just me?! Perhaps “drama queen” is overstating it, but really. This is crazy. Kovalchuk is a free agent again! A little more than a month after he became a UFA, Kovalchuk could flit off to the Kontinental Hockey League and join the super team SKA St. Petersburg seems to be amassing over there. He could crown himself a Los Angeles King after all. Or, the humble and loving Thrasher fan in me naively, somewhere in the back of her mind thinks, he could come home to Atlanta. Yes. Go get him Dudley! (Oh! Silly me. We are not a “class organization” in his eyes, so never mind the bollocks!)

Am I spiteful? Just experiencing a wicked case of schadenfreude and am all giddy? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know. Until then … LOL Kovy. Oh dear!

Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk from kiltmen.com. If I am not mistaken, that photograph originally appeared in a fashion spread in a magazine many years ago. The Hockey Goddesses regret not knowing the original copyright owner, but would welcome this information (as much as we would welcome knowing how the author of the story and/or photographer persuaded him to pose in this garb — delightful and oddly sexy as it is.)

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05 Aug 2010 The NHL’s Silly Season
Bill Guerin

Bill Guerin: Do not need. Do not want.

Bob McKenzie has the right idea. A few days after the opening of the free agent market, he took himself off on vacation and, other than a couple of Kovalchuk comments, has mostly Tweeted about his hammock and golf game.

Other NHL media folk would be wise to follow suit. Or at the very least, as my mother used to say, think before they speak (or type, or Tweet).

Unfortunately, too many hockey media, with too much time on their hands, too eager to listen to any whispered rumors (whispered by whom? Agents, perhaps? Perish the thought!), are too ready to pass along any ridiculous crap they hear and call it “news.”

Case in point: The Boston Bruins are interested in Bill Guerin.

The story “broke” from St. Louis (St. Louis?) on July 27, in the midst of Blake Wheeler’s salary arbitration hearings. The New England Sports Network’s web site picked it up:

The Bruins could be welcoming back a familiar face to the Hub as the team is speaking with Bill Guerin about a potential return to Boston, according to Radio host and St. Louis Blues writer Andy Strickland.

“The Bruins are talking to veteran Billy Guerin,” Strickland Tweeted Tuesday. “They need to make a roster move before they can sign him…”

OK, obviously nobody stopped to ask one simple question. No, not WTF? (though I’ll admit that’s the first thing that crossed my mind.) The question would be “Why?”

The Bruins already have their Designated Old Guy. They’re in cap hell, and are going to have to move a player or two even without signing any free agents. Though they haven’t hung out signs saying “We’re going with a youth movment,” it’s fairly obvious to anyone paying attention that they’re aiming to get younger and more dynamic, with Tyler Seguin only the tip of their young prospect iceberg; they’ve got some real talent knocking on the door.

In a nutshell, signing Bill Guerin would make no sense whatsoever.

Meanwhile, that bastion of sports journalism The Bleacher Report picked up the story, with an added twist:

Reports from NESN have stated that the Boston Bruins have significant interest in veteran winger Bill Guerin.

Oooh, so now it’s “significant” interest!

The story grew, making it onto both of Boston’s sports radio stations, as well as ESPN’s web site. For 24 hours, Bruins fans hotly debated the pros and cons of the Return of Bill Guerin.

Until Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com came along:

…A Bruins source told CSNNE.com Wednesday [July 28] there was no interest on their part in the 39-year-old free agent winger.

A Bruins source. Imagine that. A member of the media picked up the phone and, y’know, actually asked someone in the Bruins F.O. about it. Responsible journalism – who would have thunk it?

Mark Recchi

We've got our Designated Old Guy (Mark Recchi), thanks.

(And when you’re praising Joe Haggerty as a bastion of responsible journalism, you’re in trouble. But that’s a commentary for another day.)

However, like Monty Python’s iconic Black Knight, it’s not dead yet! Seriously. From yet another Bleacher Report blog (written on July 31):

I am hearing that Bill Guerin is generating interest from the Bruins, Penguins and Islanders.

And lest you think it’s just fannish blogs, think again

Former Penguins forward Bill Guerin was linked to the Boston Bruins but given their limited cap space in the wake of their acceptance of Blake Wheeler’s arbitration award, they can’t afford him.

No, he wasn’t! It was a rumor, probably started by his agent, aiming to drum up interest… oh, never mind. Just go on vacation. Please.

Photos:  Bill Guerin from The Associated Press.  Mark Recchi from Getty Images.



20 Jul 2010 Kovy’s Contract Rejected — Why?
Ilya Kovalchuk

The NHL says Kovalchuk's contract is 'illegal' -- how can this be? Hasn't precedent been set? (see: Hossa, Ricky D, Bobby Lou, et. al)

File this under “things that make you go ‘hmmm…’”

It’s quite intriguing that the National Hockey League has decided to put its foot down with the Ilya Kovalchuk contract. There are several contracts similar to his, though not as long. I doubt they have a legal leg to stand on. Even if the New Jersey Devils and Kovalchuk himself knows this contract was written in such a way as to circumvent the Collective Bargaining Agreement, how can they prove intent? Is it that he’ll be 44 years old when the contract expires and, basically, nobody (let’s say 0.005 percent of players) plays past 40-ish?

Even so, how do you prove intent to circumvent? And even if you do prove it, if the current CBA has that loophole, how do you retroactively close it? And where do you draw the line? Fifteen years was OK for the Islanders’ Rick DiPietro. Marian Hossa signed a big front-loaded contract. Robert Luongo is on a monster deal. Where is the line? Why bring the hammer down at this point?

I am very curious as to how the league thinks it can get away with this randomness — either you can or you can’t do something under a contract. And, while I am not a lawyer, if those other contracts were not in violation, how can this one be?

The Kovalchuk drama continues!  He always was a diva — this somehow fits.  (No really … don’t you think?)

What are your thoughts?

Photo:  Ilya Kovalchuk by Getty Images.

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08 Jul 2010 Nabokov Signs 4-year Contract With SKA
Evgeni Nabokov goes to Russia

Evgeni Nabokov goes back to Russia.

One of the best Russian goalies in the NHL — Evgeni Nabokov — has signed a 4-year contract with SKA (Saint Petersburg), Sovsport.ru reports.

On Wednesday we sorted out the last small difficulties, and Zhenya [a nickname for Evgeni in Russian] signed the contract with the SKA. The agreement was e-mailed to him. Now Zhenya is going to set up him home problems — he should close his house in San Jose, to sell all the unneeded stuff… He moves to Russia with his whole family. The sum of his contract suits him. And KHL is satisfied – to have such a player means to raise the prestige of the league in the world, — said Nabby’s agent Sergei Isayev.

SKA refuses to name the contract sum.  And the club denies that this agreement with Nabokov will prevent them from fighting for Ilya Kovalchuk.

Photo:  Evgeni Nabokov from Sovsport.ru

Evgeni Nabokov goes to Russia
Evgeni Nabokov goes to Russia

One of the best Russian goalies in the NHL – Evgeni Nabokov – has signed a 4-year contract with SKA (Saint-Petersburg), Sovsport.ru reports.

- On Wednesday we sorted out the last small difficulties, and Zhenya [a short for Evgrni in Russian] signed the contract with the SKA. The agreement was e-mailed to him. Now Zhenya is going to set up him home problems – he should close his house in San Jose, to sell all the unneeded stuff… He moves to Russia with his whole family. The sum of his contract suits him. And KHL is satisfied, too, because to have such a player means to

- said Nabby’s agent Sergei Isayev.

В НХЛ Набоков выступал только за «Сан-Хосе». В американском клубе он провел десять сезонов, за пять последних зарабатывал по шесть миллионов долларов в год.

– Объявлять сумму контракта Набокова мы пока не собираемся, – заявил генеральный менеджер СКА Андрей Точицкий. – Вот примет КХЛ закон обнародовать все договоры с игроками – тогда пожалуйста. Пока могу лишь сказать, что Евгений уже давно принял решение выступать за СКА. И сумма контракта его полностью устраивает. В среду, поставив подписи под документом, мы поговорили несколько минут, поздравили друг друга…

– Почему контракт подписан сразу на четыре года? Чья это была инициатива – игрока или клуба?

– Я бы сказал – по обоюдному желанию сторон. Теперь вратарская позиция в нашей команде полностью закрыта.

– Ясно, что сумма контракта Набокова – очень приличная. Означает ли это, что СКА отказывается от своих притязаний еще на одну звезду НХЛ – форварда Илью Ковальчука?

– Давайте пока без подробных комментариев. Ковальчук остается в сфере наших интересов.

– Поставлю вопрос иначе – контракт Набокова будет выведен из-под потолка зарплат, что позволяет регламент КХЛ, или этот резерв сохранится для Ковальчука?

– С этим мы определимся чуть позже.

– Остается ли в СКА Алексей Яшин?

– Мы сделали Яшину новое контрактное предложение. Алексей пока не ответил.

Отметим, что от контракта Набокова со СКА выиграл не только питерский клуб, но и сборная России. Наш тренерский штаб получил в свое распоряжение опытнейшего голкипера на ближайшие чемпионаты мира и Олимпиаду в Сочи.

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03 Jul 2010 Will Kovalchuk Get ‘Yashin-ed’?

Ilya Kovalchuk

Kovalchuk has said he just wants to win, but is it just lip service?

As I’ve watched the Kovalchuk bonanza (note slight sarcasm), the thought has occurred to me repeatedly that perhaps he will be the next Alexei Yashin. Some of the warning signs might already be there.

Yashin. Awesome player, but a guy maybe too many people expected too much out of. Maybe they expected more leadership than he could give. Hey, some guys just aren’t made that way. Maybe he was overpaid. (Maybe, they all are, but we won’t go there.) But being deemed an “overpaid” player brings massive pressure and expectation. Yashin was a captain for two different NHL teams — that’s a heaping helping of stress and responsibility for pretty much anyone, but for some it’s like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Some guys are best left doing what they do best and no more. In Kovalchuk’s case, wind up, shoot, score, sneak out of the area and slip off to Morton’s in your sweet baby blue Bentley. No questions asked. As captain in Atlanta, he was never the media guy or the go-to-for-a-quote guy, which is part of the captain’s gig.

But what does Kovy have to do with Yashin? You’re probably thinking I am crazy. Maybe you’re right, but I am thinking several steps down the line. Let’s say Kovalchuk signs with the New York Islanders as is now the tasty rumor of the day. (The Islanders are, coincidentally, Yashin’s last NHL team. I won’t even mention the coincidence that Kovy and Alexei have the same patronymic, er, middle name: Valeryevich) Anyway. So, he signs with the Isles, he gets massive dollars, massive term. With it he gets the scrutiny of the New York media. He also gets the love (and hate) of the New Yawk fans. Whereas in Atlanta, he could slip out the back door without answering questions, in New York (or any other hockey haven) he’ll be held to account. A quiet night at The Cheesecake Factory (a Kovy fave)? Fuggetaboutit. In New York the fans will put him to the test even as he tries to enjoy that triple turtle cheesecake with extra whipped cream. Nobody will be polite. Nobody will call him Mr. Kovalchuk. It’ll be right up in his face with something like this: “What the [bleep] were you [bleeping] doing in last night’s [bleeping] game you [bleepity-bleepity-bleep]?! You bum!”

Kovalchuk has said in the past that he prefers anonymity and after years of watching how he handles himself around Atlanta, I am inclined to believe it. He’s spent years ducking the two or three reporters who make the ATL locker room scene. How will it feel to have a face full of ultra pushy reporters every single night and no way to sneak off into the darkness? Will he wilt? Thrive? Get angry? Or get “Yashin-ed” (that is to say, blamed for everything)?

Alexander Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk

As exciting as Ovechkin, left, Kovalchuk differs from his friend and countryman in some important ways.

Let’s say he is made captain of his new team. Can he handle the pressure? People might argue that sure he can. Of course! He’s held up under the gun of the Russian national team. He’s even excelled. But I argue, this is different. Much different. As a member of the national team, he’s among friends and fellow countrymen. He’s at home. In North America, he’s a bit of a fish out of water. He doesn’t seem to have the same comfort level here as, say, an Alexander Ovechkin (or his NHL-trailblazing forefather Sergei Fedorov), for example. He’s a bit of a homebody. Married young, with three young kids. Yet … like Yashin, he has a wife who was somebody once. Where Yashin has former supermodel Carol Alt, Kovalchuk has Nicole, who sang in a popular Russian, all-female group before settling down. Maybe she’s pushing to jumpstart a career here in the U.S.? If that’s the case, L.A. or N.Y. would be A-OK from her standpoint.

Alexei Yashin was vilified for holding out for more money when he was with the Ottawa Senators. Kovalchuk is painted by many here in North America as a “greedy bastard” — all about the money, not about the winning. Is it true? The jilted Thrasher fan in me has a tiny “yes” peeping inside. If he wanted to win, he could have done what Marian Hossa did: Hand-picked teams he felt had excellent chances of winning. Instead, if rumors are true, and that he’s asking for the sun, the moon AND the stars, he will have a limited number of teams able to pony up that kind of money. And, by all accounts, the number of teams is quite limited (teams in the Kontinental Hockey League notwithstanding). At the moment he seems to be proving the all-he-cares-about-is-money crowd to be correct. People said that about Yashin too.

Yashin was a solid player, really, but he could not shoulder the heavy burden of expectation that his contract placed on him. Some players thrive under such burdens, some break their sticks in frustration, cast them into the stands and get suspended by the league (hello Kovalchuk!).

Alexei Yashin

Yashin is all but forgotten in North America -- except by the Isles who will continue to pay him until 2014.

Let’s say he gets his big NHL pay day. He gets his long-term contract. He gets the sought-after no-trade clause. Let’s say he’s playing in the pressure cooker of a New York or under the bright lights in Hollywood. How will he hold up? One could argue that he didn’t hold up particularly well in Atlanta, where the spotlight isn’t as bright and the pressure is, well, close to nil. Sure he got his goals, but he was prone to brooding and fits of immaturity, particularly when things weren’t going well. (He was prone to moments of brilliance as well, no doubt about it.) One could argue that he didn’t lead Atlanta to glory. As a matter of fact, one wouldn’t need to argue that. It’s a fact. One could argue he’s a sniper, pure and simple, not a leader. One could argue — and many have — that he’s obsessed not with winning, but with money. Time will tell the true tale.

Five or six years down the road, I think we could be talking about one of two things: Kovalchuk being “Yashin-ed” — bought out and essentially forgotten by the league; or he experiences a modicum of success, but not as THE leader of whatever team he is playing for. If Kovalchuk wins anywhere, he will be a key piece, but not THE piece that seals the deal. He’s just not that kind of guy.

A third option — and one I still consider a possible scenario — is that he does go ply his trade in the KHL, spurning whatever offers come his way here in North America and going for the really big dollars the KHL can offer. I believe superstars like Kovalchuk are leaned on heavily by the powers that be in Russia and Kovalchuk recently supplanted Alexei Morozov as the captain of Team Russia. I could see Kovalchuk returning in glory to play in the KHL. Coincidentally, the KHL team said to be the front runner for his services? SKA St. Petersberg — Alexei Yashin’s team.

Photos: Ilya Kovalchuk; Alexander Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk; and Alexei Yashin by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2007-2010. All Rights Reserved.

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02 Jul 2010 How Do You Solve a Problem Like Modano?

Mike Modano

The former face of the Dallas Stars Mike Modano.

Mike Modano had a storybook ending to last season (the Dallas Stars failing to make the playoffs notwithstanding). His final home game saw him get an assist, a goal and the game-winning shootout goal. His last game took place in Minnesota, where his career began. The crowd cheered his shifts (after years of booing), the Stars won, and after the game he came out in an old Minnesota North Stars jersey, once again receiving thunderous applause.

The Stars produced video tributes. People flew from all over North America to be a part of Mike’s final games. Hockey pundits lavished praise upon the career of America’s greatest scorer. The problem is, Mike Modano wasn’t and isn’t ready to retire.

Now, what does an organization do when they are ready to turn a corner, but the face of their franchise isn’t? According to GM Joe Nieuwendyk, you don’t even offer the player a contract.

Legions of Dallas Stars and Mike Modano fans have taken to the talk radio airwaves and the Internet to voice their displeasure about the organization’s decision. You see, in the South, we’ve been brought up with better manners than that. Up North, you can get away with letting a Saku Koivu (or any other player that has spent his entire career with one team) go. But with Modano … this one is going to hurt.

Mike Modano

Mike Modano's good looks, easy charm and incredible play helped sell hockey in Texas.

When Mike and the former North Stars came to Dallas, Modano was the one the organization used to sell tickets. His was the face on the billboards. Pretty enough for the big-haired Texas woman to pay attention to, and talented enough to keep even the most diehard Cowboys fan watching in amazement as he weaved his way around defenders with his hair and jersey flapping in his wake.

As for me, I had hoped Mike would retire. Not because he doesn’t still have more hockey in him, but because I felt, in some ways, the Stars needed to move on, both on and off the ice. I’m also someone who hates seeing an athlete’s skill diminish as he struggles to keep up with the game he has played all of his life.

Sadly, few remember how feared Chris Chelios was. New York Rangers fans watched Mark Messier become a shadow of the player he had been. Even beloved Vancouverite Trevor Linden was a healthy scratch many times during his final season.

Mike Modano is my favorite player. He took that position the very first time I saw him skate. (Sorry Neal Broten!) I’ve watched him his entire career, even when he didn’t have his familiar No. 9 on the back of his sweater. As he and I take on different roles for the first time in more than 20 years, I hope he goes somewhere that will make him happy once again. You could see his frustration last season at how he was being utilized; and when Mike isn’t happy, he doesn’t play as well.

So, Mike, as you embark on this new chapter in your career, I wish you nothing but clean, fast ice … and may your jersey forever flap behind you!

(But please … land out East!)

Photos: Mike Modano from mikemodano.com.

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12 Jun 2010 Howdy, Blackhawks! Welcome to Hell!

Salary cap hell, that is.

I really, really hate to rain on anyone’s parade. As a fan of an Original Six team (which is also suffering from a Stanley Cup drought), I was happy to see the Blackhawks and their fans celebrate their well-deserved victory. But I couldn’t help but bite my lip and say, “but… but… you all realize what’s going to happen, don’t you?”

Folks, the Chicago Blackhawks have 14 players under contract for next season, and they are $798,003 over the cap.

That’s right. Over.

And that doesn’t even include Jonathan Toews’ $1.3 million bonus for winning the Conn Smythe Trophy (amusing to see panic over that, like it’s making some huge difference).

It's not your fault, not really

It’s the salaries, folks. Brian Campbell: $7.142 million. Patrick Kane: $6.3 million. Toews: $6.3 million. Duncan Keith: $5.538 million. Marian Hossa: $5.275 million. Patrick Sharp: $3.9 million. Dave Bolland: $3.375 million. Christobal Huet: $5.625 million. (!) Check out the gory details here.

And y’know, banishing Huet to the minors isn’t going to solve Chicago’s problems.

I’m sure there were plenty of tears flowing amongst the Blackhawks during their Cup celebrations, because they know. This team, this band of happy winners, will never be together again, not until they have their Stanley Cup reunions 20, 30 years from now.

Kane and Toews will surely be retained, and the Blackhawks will probably continue to be a winning team. But a dynasty? I’m afraid any hopes of that will very soon be tossed in the bin with the empty champagne bottles. It’s going to be one hell of a hangover in Chicago.

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10 Jun 2010 Kovalchuk Reportedly Ready for Russia Return
Ilya Kovalchuk

Will Kovy take his lethal one-timer to the KHL?

According to published reports in Russia, there is an increasing chance that NHL super sniper Ilya Kovalchuk will suit up for the Kontinental Hockey League next year. Kovalchuk is being courted by SKA St. Petersberg and his agent recently told Russian-language newspaper Sport-Express that he is interested in playing in his native country until the next Winter Olympics to be held in 2014 in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, Russia.

Yury Nikolaev confirmed Kovalchuk, who has not come to terms on a new contract with the New Jersey Devils (the team holds exclusive negotiating rights to him until July 1), is now in talks with SKA.

“It is no secret. The SKA bosses and KHL President Alexander Medvedev all expressed their desire to purchase Kovalchuk in their interviews. … Ilya has a desire to play in Russia until the Sochi Olympics [in 2014],” the newspaper quotes him as saying.

Several other KHL teams, including Salavat Yulaev Ufa (now home to former-NHLer Viktor Kozlov) are reportedly interested in Kovalchuk.

Should he choose to sign with SKA St. Petersberg, Kovalchuk will join a virtual who’s who of Russian ex-NHLers such as Sergei Zubov, Sergei Brylin, Oleg Saprykin, Alexander Korolyuk, Andrei Zyuzin and Alexei Yashin. Not to mention former NHL starting goalie Robert Esche of the U.S. and Joel Kwiatkowski of Canada (who had a cup of tea with the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2007-08 season).

July 1 should be interesting!

Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2008-2010.

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