This story could never qualify as light summer fare because it has taken nearly the entire summer to get through. And it’s not quite over yet, although thankfully the final chapter of the Ilya Kovalchuk saga is in sight with the NHL reviewing his latest contract offer from the New Jersey Devils as Labor Day weekend approaches.
It’s the latest plot twist, resulting from a significant NHL victory a few weeks ago that came when an arbitrator upheld its rejection of Kovalchuk’s initial 17-year, $102 million offer from New Jersey. The arbitrator ruled the deal was a circumvention of the salary cap, forcing the summer’s most prized free agent and a team that gave up a lot to get him at the trade deadline to start over. And to find a way to make it all palatable to the league.
Apparently the NHL has provided a great deal of guidance along the way, which isn’t surprising since the league really wants them to work it out. No doubt it would have been just as well, maybe even better had Kovalchuk, one of the game’s most exciting players had gone to Hollywood to join the young and improving Los Angeles Kings. But the Kings couldn’t come to terms with him and having Kovalchuk stay in the Big Apple area isn’t a bad thing for the NHL.
Especially considering the alternative.
Truth is Kovalchuk’s salary expectations meant there were few suitors for his services as he hit the open market July 1 in the prime of his career. But one that has remained constant has been Russia’s KHL, where the money is starting to speak loudly.
To this point, the KHL has been generally been able to raid the NHL of only aging veterans or second-tier Europeans, but signing Kovalchuk, even for only one season, would help legitimize the rival league and step up the competition for players. And that’s the last thing the NHL needs right now, especially in light of the challenges from overseas being championed these days by International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel.
The league has made its point about how unfavorably it looks at GMs and agents trying to play end-arounds on the salary cap with contract structures. Now it needs the Devils and Kovalchuk to work things out.
Meanwhile, one team to watch right now is the Edmonton Oilers as it borrows the ‘most interesting’ tag from that beer guy. This is going to be a pretty notable week for the Oilers because when it’s over, their No. 1 goalie could be in jail. And their highest paid defenseman could be in the minors because that’s the only way to get rid of him.
The Oilers have been trying to trade disgruntled Sheldon Souray since the deadline, but for some reason haven’t been able to move an injury prone defenseman who has two years and $10.8 million left on an overvalued deal. Souray hasn’t helped matters by complaining openly and by restricting destinations with a no-trade clause.
It’s reminiscent of what Ottawa went through last summer before trading Dany Heatley. Souray doesn’t have nearly the same trade value, but he could be just as big a distraction if he’s still around when training camp opens and that’s why Edmonton is considering so waiving him and burying him as a the last resort.
The Oilers wont’ have to go that far with goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, at least not yet because he’ll be in jail when camp opens. Khabibullin faces a mandatory minimum 30 days in Phoenix when he sentenced Tuesday after being found guilty in a DUI case.
That stems from an incident last February when the one-time Coyote was near stopped speeding while having nearly twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. Khabibulin was out for the season with a back injury after playing just 18 games for Edmonton. He signed a four-year, $15 million free agent contract with the Oilers last July.