‘All indications’ point to Sobotka opting out of KHL deal, returning to Blues

Jared Clinton
Vladimir Sobotka (Photo by Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

There were reports during the 2015 off-season that Vladimir Sobotka would opt out of his KHL contract with Avangard Omsk to return to the St. Louis Blues, but instead the 28-year-old center chose to play at least one more season in Russia. His time with Omsk could be coming to an end this off-season, however.

According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Sobotka has a one-month window each June in order to opt out of his deal with Avangard, and “all indications” point to Sobotka leaving the KHL when he gets the chance this off-season. Sobotka signed a three-year deal with Omsk following the 2013-14 season, which is reportedly worth $4 million per season.

“The agent told me that the money he made (in 2014-15), they guaranteed him for (2015-16),” Blues GM Doug Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford last May. “He’s got two weeks to decide what he’s going to do. I said ‘We’d love to have him back.’ I understand if the economics are so great in the KHL and he has to stay. I respect that. Then we’ll talk again a year from now.” Read more

Report: Ilya Kovalchuk leaving SKA to play for KHL’s Chinese expansion team

Jared Clinton
Ilya Kovalchuk (center) was stripped of SKA St. Petersburg's captaincy. (Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images)

SKA St. Petersburg has continued to roll on through the KHL post-season without the services of Ilya Kovalchuk, who was stripped of the captaincy and has been a healthy scratch for most of the first two rounds, but the saga may be coming to a bizarre close.

According to Agence France-Presse’s Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Russian media has been told that Kovalchuk will be leaving St. Petersburg at the end of this season and will suit up for the KHL’s expansion team in China next season. It had been previously reported that Kovalchuk would remain with SKA until at least April 30, meaning any movement from St. Petersburg may have to wait until the summer. SKA is denying the move will take place, however.

The KHL signed a “protocol of intentions” with Chinese club HC Red Star Kunlun in mid-March that would see the team participate in the 2016-17 KHL campaign. Their addition to the league hasn’t yet been finalized as Kunlun needs to “present financial guarantees by April 30th, 2016, comply with conditions imposed on clubs participants and adhere to the rules established by the KHL Regulations.”

A final decision will be made regarding the club this summer, but it’s likely they will debut in the league when the next KHL season opens. Read more

Kovalchuk fails to score in first three games of second-round series, benched again by SKA

Jared Clinton
Ilya Kovalchuk

Before the second round of the KHL post-season began, Ilya Kovalchuk had been benched for each of SKA St. Peterburg’s four first-round victories, stripped of the captaincy and sent home to train on his own. It seemed unlikely he’d get back in the lineup in the second round, but he did. However, it appears that stay in the lineup will be short-lived.

Kovalchuk, 32, was again benched by SKA following the first three games of the second-round series against Dynamo Moscow. In his first three outings, the veteran winger was held off the score sheet in each game and skated a total of more than 50 minutes over the three contests. While he did improve on his one-shot effort from Game 1 with four shots in the second and third games of the series, Kovalchuk was unable to pick up even an assist through the series’ first three games.

So, needing a win in a series SKA was trailing 2-1, coach Sergei Zubov did what he had in the first round: he sat Kovalchuk down. St. Petersburg responded with a 4-0 win to even the series at two games apiece. Read more

Nikita Tryamkin and Vancouver’s “hot tub” rebuild

Ryan Kennedy
Nikita Tryamkin (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Vancouver Canucks announced last night that the team was bringing over 6-foot-8, 240-pound Russian defenseman Nikita Tryamkin for the rest of the season. This will be fun for Canucks fans, since the team’s three wins in its past 10 games doomed any playoff hopes from here on out.

How will the new import work out? We’ll find out soon enough. But Tryamkin is the type of player Vancouver needs for the future, because this squad isn’t structured for a full-scale tank job. Instead, the Canucks will need to undertake what I like to call a “hot tub” rebuild.

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Kovalchuk saga continues as SKA activates him ahead of second-round series

Jared Clinton
Ilya Kovalchuk (center) was stripped of SKA St. Petersburg's captaincy. (Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images)

Ilya Kovalchuk’s situation in SKA has taken yet another turn, this time with St. Petersburg activating the veteran forward ahead of their second-round series against Dynamo Moscow.

While that may not seem like much, you’ll recall that Kovalchuk, 32, found himself making headlines during SKA’s first-round series against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl after he was benched following the series’ opening game. During that contest, Kovalchuk was responsible for a neutral zone turnover that led to Lokomotiv’s game-tying goal in a contest Yaroslavl would win in overtime. Following the game, news came that Kovalchuk had been sent back to St. Petersburg to train by himself and would miss Game Two. He was also stripped of the team’s captaincy.

What followed was four straight victories by SKA, all of which were without Kovalchuk. Before the first round was complete, there were a number of reports indicating that Kovalchuk’s playoffs were over. There was reason to wonder if Kovalchuk would ever play for SKA again.

Or at least there was until Sunday evening. Reports came that Kovalchuk would be in the lineup for Game One of SKA’s second-round series, and that’s exactly what happened. Monday night in Moscow, Kovalchuk again took the ice for SKA. Read more

KHLer throws hat in the ring for goal of the year by scoring while flat on the ice

Jared Clinton
Damir Zhafyarov (via KHL/YouTube)

Damir Zhafyarov, who plays for the KHL’s Sibir Novosibirsk, hasn’t been known for filling the net throughout his KHL career. Through 56 regular season games, the 21-year-old winger had six goals and 13 points and he’s only scored 27 times in nearly 200 games in the primarily Russian league. That didn’t stop him from scoring one of the most gorgeous goals of the season, though.

In Game Five of Sibir’s first-round series against Admiral Vladivostok, Zhafyarov was part of a 3-on-3 rush early in the second period and managed to slip by a check after taking a cross-ice pass. While moving around the defender, though, Zhafyarov was hauled down, which led to a delayed penalty. However, while falling to the ice, Zhafyarov managed to flick the puck to his left and then use his stick to knock it into the net while flat on his stomach. Seriously. Check it out: Read more

Prospect Need to Know: Sebastian Aho is soaring to the top

Sebastian Aho (Photo by Karpat Oulu/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

The NHL trade deadline had plenty of ramifications in the prospect world, with a slew of draft selections going to new teams and some actual players changing organizations as well. One situation to keep an eye on? Conner Bleackley, now of Arizona. The Colorado first-rounder would net the Coyotes a compensatory second-round pick if he doesn’t sign with his new team and based on his fractured kneecap and uneven career to date, that could be a real possibility.

 

Here’s a look at some of the other prospects you should know about right now:

 

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Ilya Kovalchuk scratched for remainder of KHL playoffs, could terminate deal in May

Jared Clinton
Ilya Kovalchuk (center) was stripped of SKA St. Petersburg's captaincy. (Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images)

Those hoping to know the fate of former NHL all-star Ilya Kovlachuk shouldn’t expect a resolution until May at the earliest.

Kovalchuk, 32, has spent the past three seasons of his career with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, but problems arose after the opening game of the club’s first-round playoff series against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, which SKA lost 3-2 in overtime. After the loss, Kovalchuk was sent back to St. Petersburg ahead of Game Two to train individually and he was held out of the lineup for the second game of the series. SKA won, and continued to win, and Kovalchuk remained out of the lineup.

Now, with SKA onto the second round with a 4-1 series victory over Lokomotiv, it appears Kovalchuk, who was stripped of the team’s captaincy, won’t be returning to the St. Petersburg lineup for the remainder of the playoffs, and there’s reason to wonder if he will ever skate with the team again. Read more