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FILE - In this April 6, 2010, file photo, New Jersey Devils left wing Ilya Kovalchuk (17) skates against the Atlanta Thrashers during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Philips Arena in Atlanta. NHL free agent shoppers won't find anyone on the open market to compare to LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. This year's class doesn't even stack up to the star quality of last year, but with players such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Nabokov available to the highest bidder, there could be quite a bit of movement around the league.

Gregory Smith/AP

At first, Ilya Kovalchuk's agent said on Twitter the star of the NHL's free-agent market would decide his future on Monday but the day ended with no decision.

"Ilya Kovalchuk choices have been narrowed down, details to be finalized but no announcement tonight," Jay Grossman said in a Twitter message Monday night, which set off as much chatter and speculation in NHL circles as did his announcement in the morning that Kovalchuk wanted to make a decision on Monday.

While the New York Post reported the New Jersey Devils were close to re-signing Kovalchuk, 27, to a seven-year $60-million (all currency U.S.) contract, that was not confirmed. By the end of the day, it was still not clear what other teams were in the running.

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New York Islander general manager Garth Snow said on the weekend he spoke to Grossman but would not say anything more. There were reports Islander owner Charles Wang made an offer of $100-million over 10 years but by late Monday it appeared the Islanders were no longer a contender.

Kovalchuk scored 41 goals last season and turned down a 12-year, $101-million contract (all currency U.S.) from the Atlanta Thrashers before he was traded to the New Jersey Devils and became an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He has scored at least 41 goals in his last six NHL seasons.

Last week, the front-runner was thought to be the Los Angeles Kings but Kovalchuk turned down the team's best offer on Sunday. "We took our best shot to meet his needs and our team's," Kings general manager Dean Lombardi told the Los Angeles Times.

If Kovalchuk does stay with the Devils it will be quite a coup for team president and GM Lou Lamoriello. On Feb. 4, Lamoriello traded a first-round and second-round draft pick, forward Niclas Bergfors, defenceman Johnny Oduya and prospect Patrice Cormier to the Thrashers for Kovalchuk, the Thrashers' second-round pick and defenceman Anssi Selmela. The trade was made not only to boost the Devils' offence for the 2010 playoffs (they lost in the first round) but also in the hopes of signing Kovalchuk to a long-term contract.

But after the Devils' early exit from the playoffs, it appeared Kovalchuk was lost, too. He became a free agent and until Monday there was no indication the Devils were the front-runners. But now it appears Lamoriello's patience will be rewarded, although he will have to move some veterans over the summer to make room for Kovalchuk's estimated $8.57-million annual salary cap hit because the Devils only have room for $4.75-million at present.

Pat LaForge, president of the Edmonton Oilers, said Monday that no promises were made to city councillors that Oiler owner Daryl Katz would help get the city of Hamilton an NHL franchise within four years or his company would pay $1-million (Canadian), as long as the city let Katz Entertainment Holdings Corporation operate Copps Coliseum and the new Pan-Am Games stadium. Katz also wants to work with AEG, a large entertainment and sports facility company owned by Los Angeles Kings owner Philip Anschutz, to develop an entertainment district around the new stadium.

"We were under discussion but there was no promise of an NHL team whatsoever," LaForge said of his meeting with Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger and some councillors. "I can't understand how that was confused. We were talking about facilities, operation, development and management, end of story."

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LaForge declined to say if there was any talk of a new arena eventually taking the place of Copps Coliseum. He noted the meeting was "in-camera" and "it's a matter of confidentiality."

Bob Bratina, a Hamilton councillor, told The Globe and Mail last Friday that no NHL promises were made but said the issue of tying a $1-million payment to management of the facilities and landing an NHL team was "suggested" during the meeting.

City staff and executives from Katz's company are now working on a non-binding memorandum of understanding about a management and development contract that will be presented to council on Aug. 30.

Bob Boughner, a former NHL defenceman who was president and head coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires, joined the staff of new Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel as an assistant coach.

Under Boughner, the Spitfires won back-to-back Memorial Cup championships in 2009 and 2010.

The new owners of the Montreal Canadiens announced plans to install one of their own as team president a year from now.

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Geoff Molson, the chairman of the CH Group, the holding company that now owns the Canadiens, will take over from Pierre Boivin on June 30, 2011 as president and chief executive officer of the Canadiens. Boivin will join the CH Group's board of directors at that time but his role was not specified. Boivin has been the Canadiens' president for the last 11 years.

There were a few free-agent signings on Monday and several players filed for salary arbitration before Monday's deadline.

The most notable signing was defenceman Brett Clark, 33, who went to the Tampa Bay Lightning for two years for a total of $3-million.

Three Washington Capitals filed for salary arbitration - forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr and defenceman Jeff Schultz. So did three defencemen, Ian White of the Calgary Flames, Chris Campoli (Ottawa Senators) and Dan Girardi (New York Rangers).

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More


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