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At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, MA (fellow bloggers, I highly recommend you check it out next year), I had an opportunity to attend a panel discussion regarding “The Decision” — whereby the NBA’s LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to team up to join Dwayne Wade in Miami — and its impacts on other areas of the sporting world.

Moderated by Michael Wilbon of ESPN, the panelists included former NBA player and current Celtics’ colour commentator Donny Marshall, San Antonio Spurs’ GM R.C. Buford, NBA and NFL agent Mark Bartelstein, and Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM Brian Burke.

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NHL Team Records in B2B Games vs Tired Teams

With the NHL trade deadline now over, attention turns to the stretch drive for a playoff spot. The concept of a 3-point game will be in vogue as teams – and fans – cringe at the sight of so many teams entering extra time to determine the final outcome of games, while each club banks a point.

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According to TSN, Pat Burns, the only coach to ever win the Jack Adams Trophy with three different NHL clubs, has passed away due to complications with cancer.

“For those who know me well, I’ve never backed down from any fight, and I’m not going to back down from this one,” said Burns. He was a man who was full of energy and determination both behind the bench and in life to the very end.

We at MLHS send our condolences to the Burns’ family as we remember our favorite Leaf moments of the legendary head coach.

“I know my life is nearing its end and I accept that,” said Burns. “As for my career, I always said to my kids, ‘you don’t cry because it’s over, you’re happy because it happened.’ That’s the main thing. I’m happy it happened.”

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Darcy Tucker has officially called it a career. “After spending the whole summer anticipating I would play, it got to a point where I knew it was time.”

“I just knew, during workouts I didn’t have that same feeling,” Tucker told TSN, “and I needed to be fair with my family.”

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First, a confession.  Or, more like an obvious statement.

I love covering hockey.  I love covering it, in all of its forms and states.  I love writing game recaps and game previews.  I love writing opinion pieces, and I love talking with those in the hockey business, to pick their brains whenever possible.

Also, one thing most know about me, is that I love the world of radio.

To me, there is nothing better than a day at work when you have the sports radio station on, hours upon hours of good debate, quality guests, and overall exciting programming.

In a perfect world, I’d love to do MLHS radio once a week (if not more) but I know all of us have pretty hectic schedules.  In my time before I became a writer on this site, I spent most of my time toiling in the minor leagues of sports writing.  I did a decent job of gaining interviews and access to players.  I began to develop the practice of recording all interviews I did, for the purpose of later transcribing them.

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I was recently invited to a Canadian Tire press conference announcing their new five-year partnership with the NHL to become the League’s Official Sporting Goods Retailer of the NHL in Canada. While I was unable to attend the event, which included a one-on-one interview with Olympic Gold Medalist and Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Toews, the promotion company generously offered a media release for the site.

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*Warning:  More analysis and opinion concerning the Kovalchuk decision. For those who want to talk hockey, as opposed to the now perpetual indiscretions of the league office etc. Alex has a post beneath.

When Richard Bloch decided to rule in the favour of the NHL in the case of Ilya Kovalchuk and the ridiculous contract, he set in place a new precedent that the league hope will stem the flow of cap-circumventing front loaded contracts. In lieu of a concrete definition, the cover-all bases nature of Bloch’s ruling was expected to draw a line under the types of long, frontloaded contracts the NHL saw as detrimental to the spirit of equality the CBA and its salary cap was supposed to theoretically harbour.

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Now that the NHL has won the arbitration award based on “salary cap circumvention” with the Kovalchuk situation, they are ready to tackle the rest of the league. A year (and perhaps in a few occasions more than a year) ago, specific contracts were approved by the league and now the league has decided to reevaluate those contracts to determine if they too circumvent the salary cap.

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The NHLPA filed a grievance against the NHL for rejecting Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils' mammoth 17 year contract. After an arbitration hearing for both sides, today the ruling was in favor of the NHL, thus making Ilya Kovalchuk a free agent.

Excerpt from Michael Stephens Added

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According to CBC Sports, the San Jose Sharks are on the verge of signing free agent grinder Jamal Mayers. The Sharks announced on their website their plans for the veteran forward. “Jamal is a fast, physical, team-first player who brings the ingredients we were looking for to this role,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson. “He is an extremely fit athlete who can kill penalties and we think he will mesh well with our group of forwards.”

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The Chicago Blackhawks have decided to walk away from Antti Niemi’s arbitration awarded $2.75M contract, and have instead signed veteran free agent Marty Turco to a one-year $1.3M contract. With the Blackhawks decision not to retain him, Niemi is now a free agent goaltender on the market and should attract some immediate attention.

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Got some interesting feedback from a couple sources regarding Kovalchuk’s 17 year deal, and its potential impacts on future CBA negotiations.

Source 1:

“These long-term deals are getting ridiculous. How many teams can compete? Kovalchuk only had two suitors due to the number of years he wanted. The league is going to look at both capping contract term and moving toward non-guaranteed contracts in the next CBA.  Contracts signed 1-2 hrs after FA are also going to be looked at and hopefully resolved. The gloves will be off on both sides, but this stuff needs to be done.”

Source 2:

“Kovalchuk may have unwittingly screwed the escrow issue for a lot of players. As more players make more salary than cap hit, payroll figures get inflated and the players end up paying a higher percentage of their salaries back into escrow. Kovalchuk’s salary will be 5.5m beyond his cap hit for five years of the contract, 4.5m and 2.5m above for another two years after that. He’s not the only player whose contract does this, but is the most high-profile given his standing and the absurd length of his deal. It’s going to be interesting to see how this affects negotiations as players will inevitably find themselves fighting opposing fronts — for contract freedoms such as term and front-loading, but against the escrow payments that result from those very freedoms. Advantage: league.”

The interesting part about the escrow concern is Kovalchuk’s salary doesn’t jump beyond his cap hit until the 2012-13 season — the same year it is anticipated a new CBA will be in effect (I believe the existing CBA has been or will be extended through the 2011-12 season). The contract was set up this way by design, and should be considered very telling as to what the focus of CBA negotiations will be from the NHLPA’s perspective.

Update: Some have been asking in the comments why Kovalchuk’s contract doesn’t violate either of the so-called “100%” and “50%” rules. The reason for this is after the jump.

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The book has (finally) closed on the Ilya Kovalchuk saga, as the Russian winger elected to remain with the New Jersey Devils.  This ends weeks of mind-numbing speculation and rumour-rehashing, including a recent explosion of news in the hockey world that had all signs pointing towards Los Angeles.  Thus, while there will be some surprise that Kovalchuk did not head down south, the overwhelming feeling amongst hockey fans today will be relief.  A side-effect of Kovalchuk’s prolonged decision-making has been the absolute cessation of any other hockey activity.  The dam should finally burst as the remaining free agents and possible trades will now be explored further by the league’s general managers.

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The two greatest military tacticians of the past 5000 years – Sun Tzu and Sgt. Slaughter – both spoke on the value of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your enemies in the field.  To effectively assess the situational realities of the Toronto Maple Leafs it pays to look at the status of their direct competition within the Northeast division.  Playing 24 games against teams from their own division, pride, points and position are all on the line.  While by no means comprehensive (as yet), take a gander at the past 3 weeks of moves.

The Canadians, Senators, Bruins and Sabres all earned playoff positions last season.  A successful, playoff calibre Leafs squad must commit themselves to dominating these frequent opponents as more than a quarter of the season will be played against them.

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According to Howard Berger, who reported live from the NHL Entry Draft this weekend, there is a ton of steam behind the Leafs and Bruins looking to make a trade for forward Marc Savard. It seems the Leafs understand he could have a long-term effect from a concussion injury, but the upside of putting him and Kessel back together is just too good to pass up on. Berger explains that the deal does not involve Tomas Kaberle and that Kaberle talks are actually down to minor whispers at this point. Expect that situation to become more relevant as the off-season continues. The trade for Savard surrounds the availability of forward Nikolai Kulemin, who is a pending RFA and is seeking more money than the Leafs are willing to offer. That said, the Bruins could move forward with a $3M dollar Kulemin if they shed the contract of $5M plus from Savard. All in all, it becomes a win/win with the Bruins getting younger and cheaper, adding a player with high potential to become a solid defensive forward, while the Leafs would get their number one center, elite playmaker, and instant chemistry with Phil Kessel. SilverSevenSens now state he has waived his NMC to play for either the Leafs or Senators. ESPN chimes in on it as well. “Reports started to surface that Bruins forward Marc Savard and his agent have eased off the player-s limited no-trade claue that allows the Bruins to deal Savard to only five undisclosed teams. Chiarelli would not confirm or deny the reports. ‘I’m not really into speculating that kind of stuff,’ he said.”

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According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Chicago Blackhawks have traded forwards Dustin Byfgulien and Ben Eager along with defenseman Brent Sopel and prospect Akim Aliu to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for New Jersey’s 1st and 2nd round picks, top prospect Jeremy Morin, and forward Marty Reasoner.

Holy Blockbuster! Chicago has been demanding sky high prices all offseason and it looks like someone finally bit… Morin scored 47 goals in 58 OHL games for the Kitchener Rangers this past season. A steep, steep price. With this move, the Hawks have cleared $4.33 million in cap space (not including Eager who is an RFA).

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Looks like the Halak trade may have opened up the floodgates.  At least, it has for the Nashville Predators, who announced two separate trades today.

The Predators dealt the rights to defender Dan Hamhuis and a conditional draft pick in 2011 to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for former Predator Ryan Parent.  Hamhuis, strongly rumoured to be a target of the Flyers all the way back to the trade deadline, was also rumoured to be on the Leafs’ wish list.  The value of the conditional pick be dependent upon whether the Flyers are able sign Hamhuis.

In a separate deal, also announced today, the Predators traded veteran centre Jason Arnott to the New Jersey Devils for 22-year old winger Matt Halischuk and a second round pick.  That’s a larger return than most would expect for the 35-year old Arnott (who previously played for the Devils from 1997-2001), and is perhaps a signal that the Devils are serious about gearing up for another Cup run in 2010/11.

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TSN has reported that goaltender Jaroslav Halak has been acquired by the St. Louis Blues. Thus far there is no report on the return, but Halak has recently aided the Canadiens in reaching the Stanley Cup Conference Finals. Dealing him when his value is high could be either beneficial or disastrous should Carey Price not be able to handle the load. The Habs received Lars Eller and Ian Schultz in return.

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So let’s get this straight: Burke wants a top six winger with some size who can score. Ideally, that player is young enough to fit into the team’s long-term core and plays with the kind of aggressive, up-tempo forechecking style the Leafs hope to one day employ. What if he were an Ontario kid, a former 3rd overall pick, and figures to be on the trading block? Bonus!

According to the Sun Sentinel, Horton’s agent would “not be surprised” if Nathan were dealt between now and the draft, as his no-trade clause kicks on July 1st. He had spoken with new Panthers’ GM Dale Tallon and has confirmed that while the team does like Nathan as a player, nobody is untouchable. Horton’s contract currently has 3 years left at a very affordable $4 million cap hit, but he has struggled to stay healthy over the past two seasons. He had a forgettable ’08-’09 campaign with just 45 points in 67 games played, but bounced back to score 57 points in 65 games played last season. Still just 25 years of age, Horton still carries that potential to be a 30-40 goal scorer in the right situation and a change of scenery should do him well.