So now that the Devils have signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a reported 17-year contract that has to rank as the most absurd in NHL history, non-Rick DiPietro division, it looks like that will spring open the free agent and trade market.
The first domino fell just over an hour later as the Flyers have dealt winger Simon Gagne and his $5.25 million contract to Tampa Bay. The Philadelphia Daily News is reporting defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick are going back to Philly, although CBC says goaltender Mike Smith might be involved in the deal too.
You wonder what this means for players like Tomas Kaberle, for teams with some money to spend (like the one at One Seymour Knox Plaza) or for the group of clubs under the salary cap floor. Things have been awfully quiet in the NHL for the last 10 days. That won't be the case this week.
Surprise, surprise: The New Jersey Devils have apparently won the bidding war with the Los Angeles Kings for free agent center Ilya Kovalchuk. This is being reported by the Newark Star-Ledger and the New York Post. The Devils' official Twitter feed reports a press conference will be held Tuesday at the Prudential Center.
The Devils' rental of Kovalchuk last year didn't go well, as they were first-round playoff losers to the Flyers. The deal with Atlanta that cost them Niclas Bergfors and Johnny Oduya among others would have been a total bust had Kovalchuk left for LA or somewhere else. Now, at least, they can build around him and make another run this year.
NHL.com has a good story on the new-look Devils. Lots of big-money names with a rookie head coach (John MacLean) behind the bench. I remain skeptical. Kovalchuk has won one playoff game in his career, let alone a series or the four needed to win the Stanley Cup. And let's see who they have to jettison to get under the cap before planning that Cup parade through beautiful, bucolic Newark.
UPDATE: Lots of chatter around Twitter, including a Russian report quoting Kovalchuk's mother, that reports it's a 17-year deal. Yes, 17. The New York Post reported last week the Devils had a 17-year deal on the table for Kovalchuk.
The Sabres' 7:45 press conference started about 25 minutes late and GM Darcy Regier said the team may not be finished in free agency and certainly hasn't closed the door on trade possibilities. Regier said he acquired Jordan Leopold after Toni Lydman had signed with Anaheim but before Henrik Tallinder signed with New Jersey, although he knew he'd need a defenseman because the likelihood was that Tallinder was going.
Regier said he spoke to Lydman as recently as noon today. He said he was also hopeful of signing two forwards who chose to go elsewhere. Hmmm. He's still looking for more scoring.
More moves in Montreal announced Tuesday night as the Habs have acquired forward Dustin Boyd and goaltender Dan Ellis from Nashville in exchange for on-the-outs forward Sergei Kostitsyn, who had long worn out his welcome in Montreal.
Ellis will be an unrestricted free agent Thursday. Assuming he signs, his acquisition apparently puts to rest the notion of the Habs signing Martin Biron as Carey Price's backup that has been getting a lot of play in recent days. Biron, of course, is likely the Sabres' top free-agent choice to replace Patrick Lalime as Ryan Miller's backup.
We're two days away from the start of the free agency period and it's likely that Sabres defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman will be testing the market. GM Darcy Regier certainly set up fans for that eventuality with his comments following the draft Saturday in Los Angeles. The salary cap is going up to $59.5 million -- bet the Sabres never had that figure on their radar in their planning the last few years! -- and Lydman and Tallinder both might now be $4 million a year players.
The Sabres, of course, remain interested in both players but the best-case scenario is probably that they find a way to keep one or the other.
Tallinder's agent, Don Meehan, said negotiations with the Sabres are far from closed in this email comment to The News this morning: "We may very well have further discussions with Buffalo before July 1 and even after." Meehan, however, did sound a more ominous note when he seconded Reiger's notion by saying, "It is helpful that the cap will be over 59 million so I believe the market for Henrik will be healthy."
Lydman's agent, Larry Kelly, has yet to respond to phone and e-mail inquiries from The News.
It's a decent free-agent market for defenseman, as this NHL.com story illustrates. If the Sabres lose both of their incumbents, it would nice to see them try to get involved with the likes of Sergei Gonchar, Paul Martin or Anton Volchenkov. But that, of course, would be the kind of big-ticket item they normally don't shoot for. We'll see. Have your say in our poll below.
John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.
Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.