Three things to know about the case of Ilya Kovalchuk, the new star of the New Jersey Devils...
1. He's in New Jersey to stay. Although the price paid for Kovalchuk's acquisition was the cost of a rental, and many observers have made the leap this will be a cameo for a Cup run, there's an excellent chance he will be signed long-term.
In Lou Lamoriello's culture, Devils personnel do not speak of players as promotable assets. But the reality is that New Jersey still has plenty of suites and thousands of seats to sell at the high-class Rock, and there has been a subtle shift this season in the way the organization runs as a business. (Lamoriello even does a radio spot for a local BMW dealership). Hockey operations remain the same, but the Devils will start to market the team with a flair never before seen with Lamoriello in charge. Sometimes, the economics become all too real and cultures must adapt.
The general manager brought in Kovalchuk -- as he has acquired difference-makers like Alexander Mogilny in the past -- to win a Stanley Cup. But make no mistake: the club's sponsorship and ticket sales departments wanted to hug Lamoriello when they heard the news. Devils owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek, for good reason, probably did. After spending the first eight years of his NHL career with a never-contending franchise, Kovalchuk will want to stay. The Devils will be happy to accommodate him.
2. This can't be about the money. No way -- not when Kovalchuk has already turned down more than $10 million a year from the Thrashers. The player understands he may not see an offer as lucrative again.
In his queasy public statements defending his franchise, Atlanta GM Don Waddell wanted his team's fans to know Kovalchuk rejected some huge offers. When Kovalchuk signs for less than $100 million, Atlanta will be faced with the truth. Kovalchuk was not confident in the Thrashers' ability to build a winner. He could not commit long-term to a team with feuding owners. Waddell did him a major favor by trading him to a team that plays for a Stanley Cup annually.
3. Kovalchuk is playing for a contract. This is what's neat about his shot-gun marriage with the Devils. In many ways, an established star is still in a position of having to play for his money.
Kovalchuk has scored 52 goals in a season twice and has surpassed the 40-goal mark in each of his last five seasons. His reputation as one of the game's most explosive offensive talents is well established. Kovalchuk is 26 years old and has already played 598 regular season NHL games.
Now he's really got something to prove!
Having turned down $100 million from Atlanta, Kovalchuk and agent Jay Grossman will start negotiations from scratch. Chances are Kovalchuk was worth more as a keeper in Atlanta than he will be to any other franchises.
Even if he lays an egg in New Jersey, this rich man won't need anyone to host an auction for him. Nevertheless, labels, fair and unfair, stick in this league. The rest of the NHL -- not just the Devils -- are anxious to see over the next few months if Kovalchuk is truly a superstar or just a guy who scores a lot of goals.
There's a big difference between the two, and it will be reflected in the offers Kovalchuk and Grossman are extended by the Devils in the spring and maybe the rest of the league on July 1. No one is going to come out and say it for the record, but the league's general managers last Thursday were muttering the same challenge for Kovalchuk as the fans.
In seven and a half seasons in Atlanta, Kovalchuk performed in one of the most pressure-free environments in the industry. He has been in four Stanley Cup playoff games and his team lost them all. Now he's with a franchise with championship standards, not a goal of eighth place. In the Devils, Kovalchuk finds himself in an organization that successfully preaches team arguably better than any in professional sports.
Let's see what you've got, Ilya.
Many teams pass on the league option of hosting their own Skills Competitions, but the Ottawa Senators turn the event into a major charity fundraiser. On Sunday, more than 15,000 fans came to the Scotiabank Place to watch Chris Phillips' Team Red beat Daniel Alfredsson's Team Black. Mike Fisher won Hardest Shot (101.3 mph) and Ryan Shannon took home Faster Skater honors. Best of all, $100,000 was raised for local charitable and youth hockey organizations.
Every time there's a major snowstorm in the Eastern U.S., the NHL does a dance with its fans. "Check our team websites hourly for any postponement information"! In most cases, it's a lot of bunk. The latest example was Sunday, when the Capitals hosted the Penguins on NBC despite brutal driving conditions for the fans.
Know this: if both teams are in the designated city, the game will be played. Once the league, the Capitals and Penguins made every arrangement possible to be in D.C., there was no chance of a postponement. According to sources, NBC had its broadcasters and crew travel to Washington on Friday. When this happened, the game going off on time was a lock.
Especially during a condensed-schedule season, the league and its teams do not want to arrange make-up dates. If you think the ticket-purchasing fans are even in the top 50 of the reasons why the NHL and its team decide to play a game in stormy weather, I'm sorry to disappoint you.
Islanders owner Charles Wang said the NHL and the NHL Players Association gave their approvals for his team's training camp in China in September. The union told FanHouse they provided the necessary thumbs up after an extended conversation about the team's plans with Islanders player rep Rick DiPietro.
The PA conducted a formal review of all the details of the training camp and also spoke with several of DiPietro's teammates. Said a union official, "Once an appropriate training camp schedule was determined between the Islanders, the NHL and the NHLPA, the tour had the support of the Players Association."
The Islanders will train in China, primarily in Beijing, from Sept. 14-23.
1 . Alexander Ovechkin, Washington: Even with a supporting cast growing in greatness, Ovechkin is "the most valuable player to his team," as the rules of the Hart state. Ovechkin is also the best individual player in the world; the Capitals' first Stanley Cup will eliminate all such statements with qualifiers. Perhaps the only obstacle to another Hart for Ovechkin is a second, longer suspension for reckless play.
2. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver: What an exhilarating season for Henrik, the centerpiece of one of the league's dominant lines with twin brother Daniel and crazy cousin Alex Burrows. Hey, maybe Sedin could benefit if there's an Eastern split between Ovechkin and ...
3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh: Not much to add here about his on-ice performance. Instead, I will use this space to point out how Crosby continues to be a worthy successor to Wayne Gretzky as one of the finest ambassadors for the league. Behind the scenes, I have witnessed countless acts of kindness with fans and graceful professionalism with the media by Crosby.
4. Patrick Marleau, San Jose: Could have sworn we've been hearing for years the Sharks were going to trade this under-achiever. Maybe they were just waiting to sell high. Right.
5. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey: In his first 49 games in Atlanta he scored 31 goals and turned Maxim Afinogenov and Nik Antropov into front-line producers. If he carries the Devils for the final third of the season, why not?
Defenders of Atlanta's ho-hum haul for Kovalchuk cite their confidence in the scouting acumen of Waddell's associate GM, Rick Dudley. They have good reason. Dudley is one of the game's unique characters, a rink rat who made an imprint in the rebuilding of the Blackhawks and as GM in Tampa Bay added many players that had key roles in the team's Stanley Cup victory in 2004. Dudley may not be considered GM material any more, but he knows a good hockey player when he sees one and he was an excellent hire for Waddell.
Even a cursory review of Pierre Gauthier's work in Ottawa and Anaheim would show he was not necessarily the man most worthy of being crowned Executive Vice President and GM of the storied Montreal Canadiens. Bob Gainey's reputation may be beyond reproach, but it's a strange move when someone quits and is allowed to name his replacement. Gauthier is a strong hockey scout. His record as a manager of people is spotty at best.
Welcome back, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Didn't you used to be ... Nick Boynton?
Hail to the Writers: Jim Matheson, Edmonton Journal; Aaron Portzline, Columbus Dispatch
The NHL FanHouse Free Scouting Bureau: If reliable but almost 35-year-old defenseman Niclas Wallin and a fifth round pick fetched Carolina a second round pick, 6-6 hard-hitting Islanders dman Andy Sutton is worth more. An unrestricted free agent in July playing the best hockey of his career, Sutton would be a very valuable second-pair shutdown defenseman for a contender.
Coaches' Handbook, Rule 8: Unless your team is coming off back-to-back games, never give your players the day off after a brutal loss or during a losing streak. Never mind the general manager. Team owners hate that stuff.
608 goals, 1,200 points. Why is Dino Ciccarelli not in the Hall of Fame?
Today's Three Stars: 3. Harold Snepsts 2. Stephane Richer 1. John LeClair