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Category: Ilya Kovalchuk

Swedish hockey official will work Tuesday's Ducks-Stars game

Untitled-4 Sweden has made its mark on the NHL with such standout players as Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Mattias Norstrom, who was recently honored by the Kings.

Now Sweden will make another mark.

Marcus Vinnerborg is the first European-trained official to be hired by the NHL and on Tuesday night in Dallas will work his first NHL game when the Stars host the Ducks.

The 37-year-old from Ljungby, Sweden, has worked in Sweden's Elitserien, the country's top professional league, since 2000. He will co-referee with Paul Devorski. The two officiated at the Vancouver Olympics.

On Wednesday, Vinnerborg will be in Colorado to officiate the Avalanche-Sharks game along with Stephen Walkom.

"You can't set this as a goal for yourself because until now the NHL has been a closed world to European officials," Vinnerborg said in an interview with IIHF.com. "I feel fortunate to get this opportunity and to be appreciated by them."

The former International Ice Hockey Federation referee has been working games in the American Hockey League to prepare for this move.

Terry Gregson, NHL senior vice president and director of officials, has been watching Vinnerborg's work for some time.

"I first saw Marcus officiate a game in 2005 and have been watching him ever since, including in Vancouver," Gregson said at the time of Vinnerborg's hiring last May. "He meshes extremely well on blended crews for world championships and Olympics. Plus, he is a quality person. His knowledge of the North American game and his work ethic and professionalism will make him a positive addition to the NHL staff.

"Marcus had a big call in overtime of that 2008 gold-medal game that had to be called," said Gregson, recalling a game that Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk subsequently won on a power-play goal in overtime. "He has the mind-set to do the right thing in a game."

-- Debbie Goffa

Kings after one: Kings 1, Devils 0

Fans booed New Jersey Devils left wing Ilya Kovalchuk  when he hopped over the boards for his first shift and every time he touched the puck, obviously recalling his dalliance with the Kings last summer when he was a free agent. Best of all for the Kings’ faithful was that their heroes scored first and held a 1-0 lead over Kovalchuk and the Devils after one period at Staples Center.

 The Kings scored on their second shot on Martin Brodeur, connecting off a well-executed rush.

Ryan Smyth carried the puck up the left side and passed to the middle to Jarret Stoll, who slipped it to his right to Justin Williams. The fleet right wing went around defenseman Tyler Eckford before taking an ice-skimming shot that got past Brodeur at 6:52 for Williams’ fifth goal, which tied him with Dustin Brown for the team lead.

The line of Smyth, Stoll and Williams has combined for 10 goals and 24 points in eight-plus games.

And for those looking for omens, Williams wears number 14 -- the same number so honorably worn by the evening's guest of honor, former Kings captain Mattias Norstrom.

The Devils had an 11-9 edge in shots over the Kings, who were playing their sixth straight game without concussion-stricken defenseman Drew Doughty. Kovalchuk had one of those shots and was minus-1 defensively.

We'll have more later at www.latimes.com/sports

--Helene Elliott

Simmonds in for Kings on Saturday night; Murray muses about Kovalchuk

First, a few nuts and bolts:

Right wing Wayne Simmonds, who missed most of the third period of the Kings’ game at Dallas on Thursday because of what the team called a lower-body injury, will play against the New Jersey Devils Saturday night at Staples Center.

“Nothing’s broken. It’s all good,” he said after the team’s morning skate at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.

With Simmonds in, Coach Terry Murray said the lineup will be the same as it was in Dallas. That means Andrei Loktionov and Trevor Lewis will be out of the lineup as the spare forwards and Peter Harrold will be out of the defense corps while Jake Muzzin plays.

Murray said Simmonds’ injury was minor. “It’s a bruise. He’s going to feel a little bit of soreness and stiffness but it’s not like there’s a torn muscle or a groin strain or something like that where there’s further damage,” Murray said. “It’s just a matter of tolerating what’s there and playing.”

Also, defenseman Drew Doughty, who Saturday will miss his sixth straight game because of a concussion, skated after most of his teammates had left the ice. After Saturday the Kings don’t play again until Thursday, so he will get a few more days to be sure his symptoms have faded.

Doughty was unleashing some blistering slap shots Saturday morning and skating well, but he still must undergo baseline tests to measure his neurological responses. If those test results are satisfactory he would be cleared to return.

OK, now to the elephant in the living room: Ilya Kovalchuk.

The last time the high-scoring left winger was seen around here, he was a free agent and was being wooed by the Kings. He visited Southern California in late July and was shown around the practice facility -- and discussed an offer from the Kings that would have paid him $80 million over 15 years.

“I went out and had a coffee with him. I had to buy it,” Murray said.

Kovalchuk said no to the Kings — maybe Murray wasn’t willing to spring for a venti — and instead took a 17-year, $102-million offer from the Devils. That contract was rejected by the league and restructured to $100 million over 15 years.

In any case, the Kings didn’t land the big scorer they wanted ... and yes, Murray did allow himself to imagine what it might have been like to have the two-time 50-goal scorer in a Kings uniform.

“Oh, sure I did. And I’ve had those guys,” he said. “I’ve had Pavel Bure put [59] goals up for me in Florida. I had [Eric] Lindros in Philly who’s an MVP of the league. I’ve had these players that are impact players and they’re nice to have. And if they’re all on page and playing the right way and playing the team game then it’s outstanding to have those guys because they do determine your season and your playoffs. They make a difference all the way through.

“I would love to have had Kovalchuk. I’m not going to kid anybody. He’s a great player. And it just didn’t work out that way. He’s a member of the Devils and we’re playing them tonight and we’ve got to play hard against that team.”

We’ll have more later about Kovalchuk and about the festivities planned by the Kings to honor former team captain Mattias Norstrom. The opening faceoff will be delayed to 7:56 p.m. PDT.

-- Helene Elliott

NHL approves Kovalchuk deal after union agrees to change salary cap calculations

Kovalchuk_150 The NHL and the NHL Players' Assn., ending a contract saga that began July 1 and lingered into Labor Day weekend, reached agreement early Saturday morning Eastern time to change the rules governing long-term contracts and how they're valued within the structure of the league's salary cap.

In exchange for this concession by the union -- a change that will expire when the current collective bargaining agreement ends two years from now -- the NHL approved Ilya Kovalchuk's 15-year, $100-million contract with the New Jersey Devils. It also agreed to end its investigations of similarly front-loaded contracts signed by Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, Boston's Marc Savard, Philadelphia's Chris Pronger and Chicago's Marian Hossa.

From the NHL's press release:

Under the terms of the agreement, the new rules will apply only to long-term contracts, defined as those with terms of five years or longer, and only to contracts executed after September 4, 2010. The new rules apply to contracts signed between now and the end of the CBA, as well as all contracts signed that begin in the 2012-13 season. The parties have agreed that the new rules do not automatically carry over into a new CBA.

For the purpose of salary cap calculations, any long-term contract that extends past a player’s 41st birthday will be valued and accounted for in two ways: The compensation for all seasons that do not include or succeed the player’s 41st birthday will be totaled and divided by the number of those seasons to determine the annual average value (AAV) charged against the team’s cap for those seasons. In all subsequent seasons, the team’s cap charge will be the actual compensation paid to the player in that season (or seasons, as appropriate).

Additionally, in any long-term contract that averages more than $5.75 million for the three highest-compensation seasons, the following rule shall apply:

Solely to determine its value for purposes of the Salary Cap, a player’s compensation for any season in which he is age 36, 37, 38, 39 and/or 40 shall be valued at a minimum of $1 million.

"We're pleased to be able to establish clearly defined rules for these types of contracts going forward and just as happy we can turn the page on uncertainties relating to several other existing contracts,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "From start to finish of this multi-week process we were able to work closely and cooperatively with representatives of the Players' Association, who shared our belief that the creation of definitive rules and guidelines in this area would be beneficial to everyone -- clubs and players alike."

"We are pleased to finalize an agreement which ends the League's circumvention investigations and also establishes rules on long-term contracts that will provide players, their certified agents and general managers clarity for the negotiation of new contracts," said Roland Lee, Director of Salary Cap/Marketplace & Associate Counsel for the NHLPA. "Turning the page on this process is something that will benefit all parties involved."

The NHL rejected Kovalchuk's first agreement with the Devils, which called for him to be paid $102 million over 17 years -- until he was 44. The drop in salary in the later years was very steep, and the NHL's rejection -- later upheld by an arbitrator -- was based on its contention that the salary structure circumvented the salary cap.

The Devils submitted another contract with Kovalchuk to the NHL last Friday. The NHL can take five days to review any contract and did so -- and then requested a two-day extension, which the NHLPA accepted. Several deadlines were broken Friday as lawyers for the league and the union discussed details of the revamped CBA terms.

The new terms aren't likely to affect many players, but the dynamics between the league and the NHLPA, which is still operating without an executive director, offer hints about what their differences might be in negotiating a new labor deal after the current agreement expires in September 2012.

--Helene Elliott

Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk. Credit: Getty Images

Still no official word from NHL, NHLPA on Ilya Kovalchuk's new contract

The NHL and the NHL Players Assn. extended Friday's 2 p.m. PT deadline four times but as of 8:30 p.m. PDT there was still no official word that Ilya Kovalchuk's reformulated 15-year, $100-million contract with the New Jersey Devils had been approved.

The two sides reportedly reached a decision in Kovalchuk's favor, but only after agreeing on an amendment to the collective bargaining agreement covering long-term contracts. It was believed to be the wording of that amendment that forced the extensions.

It was five weeks ago that the league rejected the Russian winger's landmark 17-year, $102-million deal, saying it circumvented salary cap rules. The union filed a grievance but an arbiter ruled that the league was correct, forcing the Devils to restructure the contract.

The CBA amendment would mean that front-loaded, long-term deals such as the ones signed by Roberto Luongo, Marian Hossa and Marc Savard, among others, would be the last of their kind.

Earlier in the day, Tom Gulitti of the Bergen County Record, quoting unnamed sources, reported in his Fire and Ice blog that the new guidelines include stipulations about how the salary cap hit would be calculated for long-term deals that go beyond the age of 35 and the age of 40. TSN, the Canadian sports network, also reported the details, but there was no word from the NHL.

This saga began when Kovalchuk, 27, became an unrestricted free agent July 1. The two-time 52-goal scorer will be 42 when his restructured contract expires.

Stay tuned to latimes.com/sports, where The Times' Helene Elliott will weigh in with the result.

-- Debbie Goffa

Report: NHL gives players' union conditions for long-term deals

A stunning story by Larry Brooks of the New York Post offers a chilling explanation of why the NHL took two extra days to rule on the validity of Ilya Kovalchuk’s second contract with the New Jersey Devils—and suggests bigger conflicts are on the horizon.
Brooks cites a “well-placed source” in saying the NHL attached conditions to its acceptance of Kovalchuk’s contract. If those conditions are not accepted by Friday the league will reject Kovalchuk’s deal and the 12-year contract between the Vancouver Canucks and goaltender Roberto Luongo and will formally investigate the 12-year contract Chicago gave to Marian Hossa.
Luongo’s contract is scheduled to start this season, but Hossa has played one season under his deal. If the league decides that contract should be voided, does that mean the Blackhawks played with an ineligible player last season and could be forced to forfeit their Stanley Cup championship?
That sounds extreme. But if Brooks is right—and he’s a veteran reporter who has broken many stories over the years—almost anything could be in play now that the NHL has decided to reject the salary-cap-circumventing contracts it had been approving and attempt to rewrite the collective bargaining agreement two years before its scheduled completion
Relations between the league and the NHL Players’ Assn., which is being advised by former Major League Baseball union boss Donald Fehr but hasn’t formally appointed him its leader, have been chilly for a while. This is an outright declaration of hostility on the league’s part and increases the likelihood of a labor war after the current agreement expires in September 2012.

Helene Elliott

Deadline for Kovalchuk ruling extended to Friday

Prolonging a saga that has consumed all of the summer, the NHL and the NHL Players Assn. said Wednesday they had agreed to a two-day extension for the league's deadline to approve the validity of Ilya Kovalchuk's second contract with the New Jersey Devils. The NHL must now rule by 2 p.m. PDT  Friday whether the contract meets its vague guidelines for not circumventing the salary cap.

Kovalchuk's first deal with New Jersey, which would have paid him $102 million over 17 years, was rejected by the league. The players union filed a grievance over that decision but lost its case when arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled in the league's favor and said the agreement circumvented the salary cap.

The second deal has been reported to be worth $100 million over 15 years and has a less steep drop in its later years than the first contract.

After the left winger's first deal with New Jersey was rejected and he became a free agent again, the Kings -- who had pursued him when free agency began July 1 and were willing to pay him $80 million over 15 years -- were interested in talking to him again. However, Kovalchuk made it clear he was focused on negotiating with the Devils and that he wanted $100 million, a number the Kings weren't willing to go to because they believed they couldn't keep their core players if they paid Kovalchuk that much.

The delay means the announcement will be made Friday of Labor Day weekend, traditionally a slow business day.

The league's announcement was issued by e-mail at about 1:25 p.m. Wednesday and did not elaborate on what issues had led to extending the deadline. Lou Lamoriello, the Devils' general manager, issued a statement by e-mail a few minutes later:

“We have today been advised that the NHL and the NHLPA have agreed to extend until Friday the decision on whether to approve or reject the latest contract between Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils.

“We remain confident that the terms of this contract comply, in every respect, with the CBA and meet both the NHL’s concerns and the principles of Arbitrator Bloch’s decision.  We remain optimistic that this extension will result in an approval of the contract and that Ilya Kovalchuk will remain a valuable member of the Devils for the balance of his career.

“We will have no further comment until the decision is rendered.”

-- Helene Elliott

Arbitrator rules against Ilya Kovalchuk's contract with Devils

An arbitrator upheld the NHL’s rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102-million contract with the New Jersey Devils on Monday, forcing the three-time All-Star back into the unrestricted free-agent market.

Arbitrator Richard Bloch agreed with the league that Kovalchuk’s contract was an attempt to circumvent the league’s salary cap, making his decision following a two-day hearing in Boston last week.

In a statement, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly hailed the decision: “We want to thank arbitrator Bloch for his prompt resolution of a complex issue. His ruling is consistent with the league’s view of the manner in which the collective bargaining agreement should deal with contracts that circumvent the salary cap.”

Kovalchuk signed with the Devils on July 19, but the NHL rejected the contract the next day. The NHL Players Assn. filed a grievance with the league on July 26, allowing the dispute to go to arbitration.

The Kings, who were considered a favorite for Kovalchuk’s services at the start of free agency, said they would be interested in restarting contract talks with the Russian winger if he became a free agent again.

However, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi has previously said he doesn’t want to sign Kovalchuk if it means stifling the team’s chances at re-signing defenseman Drew Doughty, who becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Last month, the team was prepared to offer Kovalchuk a 15-year deal worth $80 million.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported Doughty is set to become an unrestricted free agent. He will become a restricted free agent next summer.

The Devils could sign Kovalchuk by restructuring the rejected contract.

The ruling could mean the end of front-loaded contract offers. The NHL intends to close the loophole that allows for such deals under the current collective bargaining agreement.

Several players including Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger, Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Chicago’s Marian Hossa previously signed front-loaded deals that were not challenged by the NHL.

We’ll have more on this development soon at latimes.com/sports.

-- Austin Knoblauch

Ilya Kovalchuk's arbitration hearing underway in Boston

Kovalchuk_275 Dan Rosen of NHL.com reports that an arbitration hearing got underway in Boston on Wednesday to determine if the NHL was correct in rejecting Ilya Kovalchuk's $102-million contract with the New Jersey Devils.

The hearing is expected to conclude Thursday, meaning the ruling might not be announced until Monday. Arbitrator Richard Bloch is hearing from all the key participants, including Kovalchuk, who delayed a trip home to Russia to attend the hearing, according to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has said that the deal, which is front-loaded and stretches over 17 years, circumvents the Collective Bargaining Agreement's salary cap rules.The NHL Players Assn. filed a grievance on Kovalchuk's behalf.

If Bloch rules that the NHL was correct, Kovalchuk would again be an unrestricted free agent, and the Kings have indicated they would renew their pursuit. However, Bloch could restructure Kovalchuk's contract to get it in line with salary cap rules, as can the Devils. If that happens, the Devils would have to jettison enough salary from its roster to get under the cap. Stay tuned.

-- Debbie Goffa

Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk during the announcement of his signing with the Devils. Credit: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Ilya Kovalchuk reportedly will attend contract hearing

Kovalchuk One of the most prolific free-agent battles in NHL history became a tad more interesting with news that Ilya Kovalchuk will be attending his own contract hearing in Boston on Wednesday and Thursday.

There's a chance Kovalchuk and his agent, Jay Grossman, could be called to testify at the hearing, which will be handled by Richard Bloch, a labor arbitrator with plenty of experience in high-profile contract disputes.

Of course, Kovalchuk's mere presence probably doesn't mean much at this stage other than that he would really like to reinforce his willingness to make $102 million playing for the New Jersey Devils until 2027.

The main issue revolves around whether players and teams should be allowed to take advantage of a loophole in the current collective bargaining agreement even though the NHL warned there would be dire consequences for any team that signed a player to a stretched-out mega deal.

Bloch could very well side with Kovalchuk since players such as Henrik Zetterberg and Chris Pronger got away with it. Or he'll simply scoff at the idea of a 44-year-old playing professional hockey and tell him to find some Russian oil tycoon to pay him $100 million to play in the KHL.

Still, if Bloch sides with the Devils and Kovalchuk, there could be some significant consequences.

First, there could be a rush to sign high-profile free agents to Kovalchuk-like contracts before a new collective bargaining agreement is ratified (the CBA expires in September 2012). That means top free agents such as Kings defenseman Drew Doughty could find a lot more takers if general managers know they can stretch out his contract over 15 or 20 years.

The NHL also would fight hard to have this loophole filled in the next CBA. Under a worst-case scenario, this could lead to another lockout -- and Commissioner Gary Bettman is on a mission to make sure these contracts will be banned in the next agreement.

Either way, this needs to get handled as quickly as possible. There are teams out there (well, on this continent, maybe just the Kings) who are willing to pay decent money for Kovalchuk as long as he starts wishing for a Stanley Cup instead of a nine-figure salary.

-- Austin Knoblauch

Photo: Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk poses outside the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., after signing a 17-year deal with the Devils on July 20, 2010. Credit: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Kings sign winger Ponikarovsky as Plan C proves successful

If at first you don't succeed in signing a high-scoring Russian winger ... and if your second option of re-signing another Russian winger falls through ... then you try, try again.

This time, the Kings succeeded. Their first major off-season addition is left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky, who got a one-year contract worth $3 million and a signing bonus of $200,000. The Kings made the announcement hours after Alexander Frolov signed a one-year, $3-million contract with the New York Rangers. Retaining Frolov was the Kings' second option after they lost out (at least for now) on Ilya Kovalchuk, but Frolov headed East. The Kings, who missed out on the free-agent defensemen they had been pursuing, previously lost defenseman Sean O'Donnell to free agency.

Ponikarovsky, 30, split last season between Toronto and Pittsburgh and scored 21 goals in 77 games. That was his fourth 20-goal output in five seasons.

According to capgeek.com, the Kings still have slightly more than $13 million in cap space for next season. They're still hopeful they can grab Kovalchuk if an arbitrator upholds the NHL's rejection of his contract with New Jersey and he becomes a free agent, and they have the space to accommodate him. 

We'll try to talk to General Manager Dean Lombardi later and we'll update you on what he says.

-- Helene Elliott

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