Rumor Roundup: Could Ovechkin be traded or “retire” to KHL?

Lyle Richardson
Washington Capitals v Carolina Hurricanes

For Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, this season is one he won’t fondly remember. The Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007, his father underwent heart surgery and Russia’s men’s hockey team failed to medal at the Sochi Olympics. The only bright spot was reaching the 50-goal plateau for the fifth time in his NHL career and leading the league in goals for the fourth time.

This disappointing season prompted some speculation over Ovechkin’s future with the Capitals and the NHL. The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson mused about the possibility of Washington shopping their captain. THN columnist Adam Proteau dismissed the idea, pointing out the difficulty of moving or buying out the remaining seven years and $70 million of his contract.

It’s been suggested Ovechkin might follow the lead of countryman Ilya Kovalchuk by retiring from the NHL to return to Russia and the Kontinental League. ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun reported of rumors a KHL team could try to lure Ovechkin away from the Capitals. KHL president Alexander Medvedev told LeBrun the only way that could happen is if the 28-year-old negotiated his way out of his current NHL contract. Read more

Rumor Roundup: With the season all but lost, which Maple Leafs get axed?

David Bolland (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. That prompted Toronto Sun columnists to speculate about the club’s off-season roster moves.

Terry Koshan notes center Dave Bolland reportedly sought a seven-or eight-year deal worth upward of $40 million before contract talks broke off in February. Given that the Leafs inked David Clarkson to a seven-year deal worth an annual cap hit of $5.25 million last summer, Bolland could seek a similar deal.

If Bolland becomes a free agent in July, Koshan claims there’s talk the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers will pursue the 30-year-old center. Koshan’s colleague Steve Simmons believes the Leafs should re-sign Bolland even at the risk of overpaying him.

Koshan also reports defenseman Cody Franson could be shopped this summer. Simmons, meanwhile, thinks there will be a lot of interest in former Leafs winger Leo Komarov, who signed with the Kontinental League’s Moscow Dynamo last summer. The Leafs could try to bring him back, but Simmons claims the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning could be among those pursuing the 27-year-old in this summer’s free agent market.
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Underdog Lokomotiv knocks out two titans in miraculous run to KHL conference final

Rory Boylen
Lokomotiv

Two and a half years ago tragedy struck the hockey world when the plane of Kontinental League team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed while taking off. Of the 45 people on board, 44 died including former NHLers Pavol Demitra and Ruslan Salei. The only survivor was Alexander Sizov, a flight engineer.

The crash happened Sept. 7, on what was supposed to be the opening day of the 2011-12 KHL season. The league delayed its start until Sept. 12 and Lokomotiv did not participate that season.

They returned for the 2012-13 season with players such as Viktor Kozlov, Niklas Hagman and Staffan Kronwall and Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov played there during the NHL lockout. Lokomotiv finished fourth in the Western Conference, but were bounced in the first round by Severstal Cherepovets in six games.

Just last month, Dave King, who has worked on NHL benches in Calgary, Montreal, Columbus and Phoenix in the past, was named head coach of Lokomotiv. Led by Sergei Plotnikov’s 35 points in 53 games and stellar goaltending from Curtis Sanford, Lokomotiv edged out Atlant for the final playoff position in the West.

Not a lot was expected from Lokomotiv as they matched up against two-time defending champion Dynamo Moscow in the first round. Lokomotiv even lost the first two games before winning their two at home. Heading into Game 7 of that series, the home team had won each game. Lokomotiv stomped Dynamo 5-1 in the deciding match and outscored them 11-1 over the final two games. That upset was incredible enough, but it was only the beginning. Read more

All-hockey March Madness: upsets in the first round

Ryan Kennedy
Patrick-Kane

They don’t call it March Madness for nothing and in our fictitious all-hockey bracket, there were some upsets in round one. Sure, the majority of NHL teams got through, but the Zurich Lions shocked Columbus and are the lowest seed moving on to the second round. In other upsets, the talented Frolunda Indians, a Swedish squad featuring several great NHL prospects (Alexander Wennberg, Andreas Johnson and Sebastian Collberg to name a few) and a brilliant coach in Roger Ronnberg, knocked off a dispirited Florida Panthers team. And as much as Alexander Burmistrov wanted his revenge on Winnipeg, he just couldn’t get his Ak Bars team past the Jets. Elsewhere, the Calgary Flames succumbed to KHL power Dynamo Moscow. Below you’ll find out second-round matchups in this whimsical tournament.

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An all-hockey March Madness bracket

Ryan Kennedy
Dynamo-Moscow-KHL

We are not immune to college basketball’s March Madness here at The Hockey News. In fact, it’s a big thing at the office. But since our primary passion is puck, I thought it would be fun to make up an all-hockey bracket, featuring the best leagues in the world. What would it look like? You can find the result here, but what follows is all the first-round matchups based on my personal seedings.

Obviously, all 30 NHL teams qualified because that circuit is heads and shoulders above everyone else. From there, I gave six seeds each to the American League, Kontinental League and Swedish League, followed by four for Finland’s SM-Liiga and the NCAA; three for major junior (based on the CHL’s rankings – sorry, Quebec League) and one each from the United States League, Canadian University and the domestic leagues for Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic. Naturally, the youngest teams took the lowest seeds – as skilled as they are, you can never discount “man strength” in these games – and an effort was made to keep AHL affiliates away from the NHL parent clubs for the first few rounds. The tournament happens now, so injuries will be a factor, as will the current state of the team (lost nine in a row coming in? That may hurt you).

I’ll update the bracket as the real Final Four tournament goes on, but for now: Who do you think gets upset in the first round?

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KHL’s Ukraine-based Donbass Donetsk forced to have home playoff games at neutral site

Rory Boylen
Ruslan Fedotenko

The Kontinental League’s only team based in Ukraine, Donbass Donetsk, advanced to the second round of the Gagarin Cup playoffs with a win Monday night. They eliminated Dinamo Riga in the seventh game of the best-of-seven series.

But, due to the political crisis in their country, Donbass hasn’t been able to play in their home arena. They’ve instead been playing out of Slovan’s rink in Bratislava, Slovakia. Read more

The Evgeny Kuznetsov era is about to begin in Washington

Matt Larkin
Kuznestov

I, like many hockey writers, have publicly chastised Washington Capitals GM George McPhee for trading away elite prospect Filip Forsberg. But the most optimistic Caps fans out there viewed that trade as affordable because, at least at the time, Forsberg wasn’t their top-rated prospect.

That was Evgeny Kuznetsov. And it appears a player many call the best outside the NHL is about to make a living inside the NHL.

The Washington Post reports Kuznestov, 21, will fly to D.C. now that his Kontinental League contract has been terminated. The deal was supposed to expire April 30, but the regular season is over and Kuznestov’s team, Trakor Chelyabinsk, missed the playoffs. The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement will let the Caps ink him to a two-year, entry-level contract with a maximum cap hit of $900,000. As the Post reports, Washington would have to send a body to the American League to make room. No problem.

At THN, this is significant news, as we’ve been tracking Kuznetsov closely since Washington picked him 26th overall in 2010. But anyone who doesn’t follow the KHL may wonder what the big deal is. Who is Evgeny Kuznestov?

You probably best remember him as the powerhouse center who terrorized Canada at the World Junior Championship, especially in 2012. He’s a very slick stickhandler, a pure offensive weapon with good enough size (6-foot-1, 198 pounds), favorably compared to Evgeni Malkin. He has to work on his two-way play, but that’s no surprise.

A year ago, plenty of pundits speculated if we’d ever see Kuznetsov in North America, but a lot has changed since then. The last year of his KHL contract was a rocky one, mired by injuries and an exclusion from Russia’s Olympic team. That stung because a big reason why he stayed home was to up his chances of making the Sochi squad. Toss in missing the playoffs and a change of scenery doesn’t look so bad anymore.

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