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Category: NHL free agency

Shea Weber receives $7.5-million arbitration award

Shea3
Exhaustion, acrimony and, ultimately, separation. 

Remembering NHL arbitration oh so well ... 

The summer of 2007 sawthe arbitration hearing between the Kings and center Mike Cammalleri.  Afterward, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi told me that he "survived." Not only did the Kings survive, but they prevailed when the arbitrator awarded Cammalleri a two-year, $6.7-million contract.

Relationships rarely survive the rugged arbitration process, and this one was not an exception -- Cammalleri ended up getting dispatched to Calgary in a three-way deal with the Flames and Ducks not quite a year after his arbitration case. 

Now, can the Nashville Predators and defenseman Shea Weber avoid an eventual parting after Weber was awarded $7.5 million on Wednesday by an arbitrator for the upcoming season, an arbitration record in the NHL? Previously, the high was John LeClair's $7 million in 2000.

"As they say: Well, why didn't you get it done? We just couldn't quite agree on the term, the length or the structure. We just didn't get it done," said Nashville GM David Poile on a conference call with Weber and reporters.

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Brad Richards turns down Kings, signs with New York Rangers

Brad3 Free agent Brad Richards agreed to a contract with the New York Rangers on Saturday, turning down an offer the Kings had made during an elaborate presentation Friday at the office of his agent, Pat Morris.

A Kings spokesman confirmed that Richards was going East shortly after it was reported by TSN’s Darren Dreger.

Initial reports pegged the contract at nine years and $58.5 million, which was close to or identical to the Kings’ offer. Both offers were heavily front-loaded.

Apparently the comfort factor for Richards of returning to the East and playing for John Tortorella, who was his coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 when they won the Stanley Cup, was more important than other factors. The Kings tried to persuade him they would be a good fit strategically, were Cup contenders and offered a desirable lifestyle. They assembled a videotape pitch that included recruiting appeals from Wayne Gretzky and Kobe Bryant, among others, but in the end couldn't overcome geography or Richards' familiarity with Tortorella.

The Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs were also believed to be among the final few teams that Richards considered overnight before choosing the Rangers. Calgary reportedly offered him more than $60 million and included a personal call from Jarome Iginla to Richards in its pitch.

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Center Michal Handzus leaves Kings for San Jose Sharks

Handzus Still waiting for word on where the Kings stand in their pursuit of Brad Richards. The sides are still talking but no decision yet.

However, one team is out: the St. Petersburg (FL) Times reports the Tampa Bay Lightning got word Richards won’t be returning there, mostly for financial reasons.

In the meantime, the Kings have lost center Michal Handzus to the San Jose Sharks for a two-year contract worth $2.5 million per year. He had 12 goals and 30 points in 82 games last season and was a stalwart defensively, on faceoffs and on the penalty-killing unit, deservedly winning fans with his perseverance and work ethic.

But the Kings, who have depth at center following last week’s acquisition of Mike Richards and need more speed, felt they could promise him only limited minutes next season. The 34-year-old Slovakian evidently thought San Jose would be a better situation.

“Michal is an extremely skilled player that has a great mix of size and competitiveness,” Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson said in a news release. “He is one of the top penalty-killing forwards in this league and has the ability to play in any situation.”

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Ducks acquire Kurtis Foster in trade for Andy Sutton

Foster3 While waiting to hear from the Kings on where they stand in the Brad Richards chase, here’s an update on the Ducks.

They didn't get the third- or fourth-line help they were seeking in the free-agent market, but they did trade defensemen with Edmonton, sending Andy Sutton to the Oilers for Kurtis Foster. Sutton has one year left at a salary cap hit of $2,125,000, and Foster has one year left at $1.8 million.

Sutton had four assists in 39 games with the Ducks last season. Foster, 29, had eight goals and 22 points in 74 games with the Oilers and ranked second on the team with five power-play goals and second in shots, with 182.

"He's a power-play guy with a big shot," Ducks General Manager Bob Murray said. "We wanted to change things up" on the power play.

Murray said he had looked at some free agents but was "scared away" by the long-term deals being given out. "Nothing drastic got away," he said.

He also said the pace and money spent Friday caught him off guard.

"I'm always surprised, but I shouldn't be anymore," he said. "Every year it's the same thing. Some of us just can't compete in that market."

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-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Former Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kurtis Foster, right, collides with Tampa Bay forward Dana Tyrell during a 2010-11 preseason game. Credit: John Ulan / Associated Press

Free agent Jeff Halpern signs with Montreal

Jeff_300 Veteran NHL center Jeff Halpern, who was acquired by the Kings in a trade with Tampa Bay last season, has signed a one-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Halpern, 34, did not score a goal in 16 games with the Kings after joining the team in March. He finished the season with nine goals and 12 assists.

The Princeton graduate and Maryland native has posted 131 goals in 720 games with four NHL teams during his career.

-- Austin Knoblauch

Photo: Jeff Halpern. Credit: Frederick Breedon / Associated Press

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

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

Alexander Frolov close to signing with New York Rangers

The Kings, who made no offer to retain left winger Alexander Frolov before he became a free agent, approached him about staying in Los Angeles after their pursuit of Ilya Kovalchuk and another player fell through.

However, according to a source familiar with the situation, Frolov said no thanks because he has an offer from the New York Rangers. Frolov is expected to agree to terms with the Rangers in the next day or so.

After not getting an offer from the Kings, the only NHL team he has played for, Frolov considered returning home to Russia to play in the KHL and told the Kings he was undecided about his future. After it appeared the Kings would not get Kovalchuk, who signed with the New Jersey Devils, and after another option also fell through, the Kings contacted Frolov again. But by then he had gotten a solid offer from the Rangers.

Frolov, 28. has had two 30-plus-goal seasons and three 20-plus-goal seasons but scored only 19 goals and 51 points last season. His work ethic was questioned by Coach Terry Murray, who sat him out of the lineup for an early-season game. That snub was cited by his Russian agent  as a reason Frolov didn't want to stay.

Frolov finished a five-year, $14.5 million contract in which he earned $4 million last season -- and reportedly was looking for a raise. That's not likely to happen, even with the free-spending Rangers.

In the meantime, the Kings have not added any free agents and are about to lose Frolov after also losing defenseman Sean O'Donnell. They hope to woo Kovalchuk again if an arbitrator upholds the NHL's rejection of the contract he signed with New Jersey and he becomes a free agent, but there's no guarantee that will happen -- or that Kovalchuk would be willing to swallow all his praise of the Devils  and sign with the Kings on the rebound.

There's lots more fun in store for everyone involved, with the NHL Players Assn. having filed a grievance of the league's rejection of the contract and the matter headed to arbitration.

-- Helene Elliott

NHL Players' Assn. files grievance over Kovalchuk contract rejection [Updated]

Ilya_400 As expected, the NHL Players' Assn. has filed a grievance over the league's rejection of the 17-year, $102-million contract between Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils.

The NHL last week refused to approve the contract on the basis that the deal circumvented the collective bargaining agreement, apparently because it was dramatically front-loaded and tapered dramatically to $550,000 a year for the last five years in order to get a low average annual value.

The players association issued a short statement:

"The NHLPA has filed a grievance disputing the NHL's rejection of the standard player contract between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk. Under the terms of the [collective bargaining agreement], the NHLPA and Mr. Kovalchuk are entitled to an expedited resolution of this matter. The NHLPA will have no further comment until this matter has been resolved by an arbitrator.”

The matter is supposed to go to an arbitrator within 48 hours. However, there is no system arbitrator currently in place, raising doubt over whether an arbitrator acceptable to the union and the league can be agreed on in short order.

If the arbitrator upholds the rejection of the contract, Kovalchuk will become a free agent and can negotiate with any team -- and if that happens, the Kings hope to swoop in. They had offered him $80 million over 15 years and had structured their offer to taper off much less drastically in later years than the Devils' deal, in the hopes that the NHL would have accepted it had Kovalchuk chosen to play in Los Angeles.

If the arbitrator rules that the league was wrong to reject the contract, the contract will go into effect and this bizarre saga will end.

[Updated at 11:23 a.m.: The NHL has responded to the players association's grievance over the league's rejection of the contract between Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils: "The grievance is not surprising or unexpected. We welcome the opportunity to establish our position before the arbitrator," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.]

More later at http://www.latimes.com/sports/

-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk with the New Jersey Devils in April. Credit: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

 

NHL players union responds to league's rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk-New Jersey Devils contract

Ilya_200 The National Hockey League Players’ Assn. released the following statement Wednesday regarding the rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract with the New Jersey Devils by the National Hockey League:

"The NHLPA is currently analyzing the basis upon which the NHL rejected the contract between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk. We are evaluating the options available to us under the terms established in the CBA. The NHLPA will have no further comment at this time." The statement was released by Jonathan Weatherdon, NHLPA spokesman.


National Hockey League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly issued the following statement on Wednesday regarding the free-agent contract forward Kovalchuk signed with the  Devils: "The contract has been rejected by the league as a circumvention of the collective bargaining agreement. Under the CBA, the contract rejection triggers a number of possible next steps that may be elected by any or each of the NHLPA, the player and/or the club. In the interim, the player is not entitled to play under the contract, nor is he entitled to any of the rights and benefits that are provided for thereunder. The league will have no further comment on this matter pending further developments."

Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils speaks with the media after announcing his contract renewal at the Prudential Center on Tuesday. Credit: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

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