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Kovy, Modano, Kaberle and more

7/23/2010 - NHL

Here are a few summer musings as we await the next chapter in the Ilya Kovalchuk "As The Contract Spins" soap opera to unfold.

Just wondering …

Was the NHL pushed over the edge to reject Kovalchuk's record-breaking 17-year deal partially because of Kovalchuk's desire not to be seen as having left money on the table last season?

You'll recall how Kovalchuk shunned a 12-year, $101 million offer from the Atlanta Thrashers this past season before then-GM Don Waddell dealt the big winger to New Jersey prior to the March 3 trade deadline.

Sources familiar with Kovalchuk's negotiations told ESPN.com that getting to the $100 million threshold was important to Kovalchuk, even though the final two or three years of the deal may have been the tipping point for the NHL. Had Kovalchuk settled for a 15-year deal totaling a shade under $100 million, it's hard to imagine the NHL would have blocked the deal given it has approved contracts of a similar nature for Roberto Luongo and Marian Hossa. (Under the terms of the rejected deal, Kovalchuk would have earned a paltry $550,000 in each of the final five years of the contract.)

Now we are left to wonder where Kovalchuk will suit up in the fall.

No time for nostalgia

It will be interesting to see how the Mike Modano saga plays out. Will he retire? Will he go "home" to Michigan and give it one last shot with the Red Wings? (Detroit coach Mike Babcock said publicly he thinks it's a given Modano will be a Red Wing come October.)

To us, this is where nostalgia runs smack dab into reality.

Modano missed 23 games to injury last season while scoring 14 times from a mostly third-line position on the Dallas Stars. He averaged 14:18 a night in ice time and scored just three times on the power play. Modano scored just 15 times in 2008-09 and has posted only 12 power-play goals over the past three seasons.

We're not sure exactly how he fits into the Wings' plans to rebound from a trying, injury-plagued 2009-10 campaign that saw them fall in the second round to San Jose.

It's not an issue of whether Modano has the will to lace 'em up in September or October; but what is his will to play out an entire season? That seemed to be an issue in Dallas the past couple of seasons and explains in part why the Stars made the choice to walk away from a player who has been the face of the franchise for two decades.

If we were Wings GM Ken Holland, we'd take a run at Bill Guerin or Paul Kariya to add veteran scoring punch and give one of their young prospects a shot at centering the third line. Less nostalgic, perhaps, but in the long run, we're guessing it would be a more productive move with less potential for dressing-room headaches.

So long, farewell …

We saw somewhere that the defection of Evgeni Nabokov to the Kontinental Hockey League might be seen as a coup for the top Russian league (which has now expanded into Europe with the inclusion of a Slovak team). Not long after Nabokov signed with St. Petersburg, Pavol Demitra followed suit and signed with Yaroslavl.

How will the NHL continue to survive without men of such incredible intestinal fortitude? Just kidding.

If anything, their departures reinforce that the KHL is merely the last stop on the train of last resorts for the troubled, aged and mentally weak.

Nabokov will end up with a lot more money playing in Russia (provided his squad can meet payroll), but he ultimately ended up packing for a long, cold winter because no NHL team figured he was worth expending anything more than a modest chunk of salary cap space.

How lightly did the Sharks regard Nabokov's ability to get them over the Stanley Cup hump? They declined to discuss a contract extension with him and signed a No. 1 goalie in Antero Niittymaki, who has played exactly 73 minutes of postseason action, to replace Nabokov.

The Philadelphia Flyers low-balled Nabokov prior to July 1 (it seems a tad short-sighted he didn't consider the Flyers' offer). In the end, though, given Nabokov's penchant for not delivering come crunch time (the 2010 Olympics, the playoffs in any of the past five seasons), the Flyers are likely better off.

As for Demitra, it's no surprise the enigmatic Slovak forward couldn't find an NHL suitor given his penchant for pulling the 'chute when the going gets tough. After lighting it up for the Slovaks at the Olympics (he was named to the tournament all-star team), Demitra delivered just three goals in 28 games for the Vancouver Canucks. Come playoff time, he added two goals in 11 postseason contests. In his past 28 NHL playoff games, Demitra has scored just five times. Can't imagine why teams weren't lining up to bestow a big contract on him.

Enjoy the winter, boys.

Kaberle and the Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have until Aug. 15 to deal Tomas Kaberle without being encumbered by a no-trade clause (that's when his clause kicks back in). GM Brian Burke spent part of this week fishing in the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia but will soon turn his attention to trying to land a top-six forward in exchange for the talented defenseman.

Kaberle is entering the final year of his contract at an affordable cap hit of $4.25 million. But if Burke can't get what he wants -- and there are wildly variant views on just what kind of market there is for the veteran puck-mover -- there has to be worse things than keeping Kaberle and trying to peddle him at the trade deadline if the Leafs are once again out of playoff contention.

With a blue line that would feature Kaberle, Dion Phaneuf, a healthy Mike Komisarek, Luke Schenn and Francois Beauchemin, maybe the Leafs are a playoff team after all. Stranger things have happened.

Souray and Mara

Kaberle isn't the only defenseman in play as the summer sands slide through the hourglass. The Edmonton Oilers would still like to move disgruntled Sheldon Souray (good luck with that, by the way), while veteran Paul Mara's future is up in the air.

Mara's agent, Jay Fee, told us the defenseman has recovered nicely from surgery on his left shoulder. The surgery was performed March 23 by Dr. Tom Gill in Boston, and Mara will be ready to go when training camp opens. Just not sure where he'll be by then. Mara fit in well with Montreal before injuries derailed the normally durable blueliner's season. We recall talking to Mara during the Eastern Conference finals against Philadelphia, and he was pressing doctors to let him get back into action. It wasn't meant to be as the Habs fell in five games to Philadelphia.

Montreal doesn't look like a fit going forward, but we wonder if Edmonton might not be a nice landing spot if the Souray situation gets remedied. Mara thrived under new Oilers coach Tom Renney when both were in New York with the Rangers. There's also Atlanta, where new GM Rick Dudley is familiar with Mara from their shared past in Tampa.

The Thrashers lost big blueliner Pavel Kubina to Tampa Bay, so they could use another big body on the back end to fill the gap. Mara would be a nice complement to emerging young defensive stars Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian. Hmm.

An idea for USA Hockey

Congratulations to the 2010 class of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame: Derian and Kevin Hatcher, Jeremy Roenick, veteran USA Hockey executive Art Berglund and longtime hockey physician Dr. V. George Nagobads. The group will be inducted at a dinner in Buffalo, N.Y., in October. (USA Hockey took over the induction process from the Hall, which is located in Eveleth, Minn.)

But we have to wonder if USA Hockey might not get more bang for its buck if it managed to tie the annual induction ceremony and/or announcement to the NHL's Winter Classic. The Winter Classic will almost certainly continue to feature two American teams given that Canada has horned in on the outdoor game trend. There are also ample opportunities for USA Hockey to shine a light on the good work it does at all levels of hockey, from grassroots youth programs to top international competitions.

By attaching the U.S. Hall of Fame to the wildly popular Winter Classic, maybe honorees will have less chance of getting lost in the shuffle.

Tallon's other gig

New Florida GM Dale Tallon will take a little time away from scouting reports and contracts to study greens and club selection as he plays in the 2010 U.S. Senior Open at the Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash., next week.

Tallon, whose fingerprints were all over the Chicago Blackhawks' Cup win this past spring as the team's former GM, is no stranger to the links. He was the Canadian junior champ in 1969 and played on the Canadian PGA Tour for a time, including the 1970 Canadian Open.

Tallon played in the Senior PGA Championship in 2003, but this will be Tallon's first USGA major tournament. The tournament begins Thursday. He missed the cut at that 2003 event, prompting him to quip, "That's why I have a day job."

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.