Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

KHL all bluff and bluster

Threats and posturing seem set to vanish without trace

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With only one of the KHL holdouts still hanging on in Slovakia, it seems the strange week of threats and posturing from that league will vanish without much effect, much like the bruising rhetoric from the NHL and the players association during the 113-day lockout.

Ilya Kovalchuk seemed to very much want to stay with SKA St. Petersburg in his home country for the remainder of the season. Pavel Datsyuk stayed through today's KHL All-Star game as well, though he had made no public statements about hoping to stay away from the Red Wings for the rest of the year.

Kovalchuk, who could have been an anchor star for the league, had this to say even after he accepted his "fate" -- if fate involves being forced to return to making a pro-rated portion of $11 million for this season, $6.435 million for the 48-game schedule to be exact:

"Owners and NHL bosses will have a cause to think now, because guys have (the KHL as) an option," he told a Russian daily.

Of course, Kovalchuk had the KHL as an option in the summer of 2011, when he agreed to a 15-year, $100-million deal with the Devils. It seems disingenuous for Kovalchuk to cry foul on the NHL lockout ending, since he had his options just 18 months ago.

Lubomir Visnovsky is in a different situation, given his personal frustration with the league after the Kings agreed to a no-trade clause in 2008 and promptly traded him before it took effect.

That ability has been removed in the new CBA -- no-trade and no-move clauses take effect immediately after they are agreed upon, and not once a new extension kicks in -- which is a sign that it was a bit of a loophole for remorseful general managers to use.

But Visnovsky, who received a personal call from KHL president Alexander Medvedev assuring the player could stay, is still in limbo. If he must join the Islanders, he is sure to be a target of fan ire and scorn -- something that will linger a lot longer than the KHL's tough talk all this week.

Have stick will travel

Many unrestricted free agents remain on the unemployment line, most of them veterans, and some with ties to the New York area. It's tough sledding, with the rosters of most NHL clubs almost set. But hope floats: Experience can be valuable, and age less of a risk in a 48-game season than in a full 82-game slate. And for clubs, the price will be reasonable.

Alexei Kovalev, 39, who played nine of his 18 seasons with the Rangers, has been invited to Florida Panthers training camp, along with former Avalanche forward Marek Svatos. Petr Sykora, 36, who scored 21 goals for the Devils last season, could return to New Jersey, and if not, the winger should land with another team.

Clubs looking for depth at centre could opt for Jason Arnott, 38, who scored 17 goals and 34 points in 72 games for the Blues, or Daymond Langkow, who was 11-19-30 in 73 games for the Coyotes.

On defence, Pavel Kubina, ex-Islander Milan Jurcina, Brett Clark, Chris Campoli and Kurtis Foster, all of whom averaged at least 15 minutes a game last season, are available -- now, or when the inevitable injury bug bites.

Last laps?

If you're fortunate enough to catch a game featuring perennial all-stars like Anaheim's Teemu Selanne, Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson and Dallas' Jaromir Jagr, this year, give them a standing ovation. This could be the farewell tour for the future Hall of Famers.

Selanne, 42, has been weighing retirement for four years, but the Finnish Flash, who has played 13 of the last 17 seasons with the Ducks, might exit for real this summer after averaging more than a point a game (1,406) in his career.

Alfredsson, 40, confessed that he was exhausted at the end of last season, but agreed to a one-year deal. He holds the franchise records for goals, assists and points, and recently admitted that he selfishly welcomed a shorter season.

Then there is Jagr, who will be 41 next month and has been playing for the Czech team he owns in his hometown of Kladno. The NHL's eighth-ranked all-time scorer, Jagr had 24 goals and a league-leading 57 points in 34 games there. But he wore down as a Flyer late last season after playing several years in the KHL, which has a 52-game season, and another full season in 2013-14 might be too taxing.

-- Newsday

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 13, 2013 B4

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