L.A. back in Kovy race; Nabokov to KHL

July, 7, 2010

OK, the Ilya Kovalchuk story just keeps getting stranger and stranger.

I woke up Wednesday morning to find an e-mail from a source saying the Los Angeles Kings were again talking to the unrestricted free-agent winger.

This is the same Kings front office that said it had washed its hands of the Russian star after he rejected their offer Sunday. And Los Angeles really, really wanted Kovalchuk, but not at a price that would prevent the Kings from building a Stanley Cup contender around him. In other words, anything north of $8 million per year would have been too much.

Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, did get back to me via e-mail, but said he would not comment on the talks.

If Kovalchuk does end up a King, GM Dean Lombardi wins the GM of the Year Award for next season. He played hardball with the prized winger, publicly walked away, privately said he was done with him and then (it would appear) had the player come back to him.

Strong poker play, if that's how it turns out.

UPDATE: Nabokov to KHL

While Kovalchuk talked contract with the Kings, a Russian Olympic teammate bolted to the KHL.

Evgeni Nabokov confirmed to ESPN.com on Wednesday he signed a four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg. He said playing in his native Russia and for a league that's trying to make a name for itself is an exciting proposition.

"For sure," Nabokov said. "But I also have to realize that I haven't played there for a long time and it's going to be a challenge for me, that's for sure."

Once the start of free agency on July 1 came and went and most of the starting goalie jobs were taken, Nabokov had to broaden his options and think seriously about the KHL.

"There wasn't much going on [in the NHL]," Nabokov told ESPN.com. "We had a couple of [NHL] teams interested, I guess ... but I had to make my decision pretty quick."

Nabokov earned $6 million this year in San Jose. While he refused to discuss financial details of the new deal, Russian media reports pegged the total contract at around $24 million.

Clearly, the money was greater in Russia than in the NHL, where the Philadelphia Flyers couldn't offer him nearly that much even though they had interest in him. The key in all this, however, was getting his family on board. Life in San Jose has been good.

"I would not make a decision like this without my family supporting me," Nabokov said. "They supported me 100 percent. That's probably the biggest reason I'm going there, because my family supported it."

Elsewhere on Wednesday:

• Wingers Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong will very likely not be the only additions for the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer.

The Leafs still want to add another top-six forward on top of Versteeg and continue to dangle defenseman Tomas Kaberle in trade talks.

"We continue to listen on Kaberle and to explore other trade opportunities," Leafs GM Brian Burke told ESPN.com via e-mail Wednesday.

Burke added that if they don't get the top-six forward they want in exchange for Kaberle, they will keep him.

• A lot of readers have been asking about Paul Kariya. Although he is working out every day, the 35-year-old forward is trying to figure out whether he wants to continue playing. If he does decide to return, he's in no hurry to sign. He's happy to let the dust settle on free agency and find a good fit later in the summer.

• There have been conversations between the Montreal Canadiens and the Carey Price camp, but still nothing serious in terms of progress. There's no real time constraint here for the restricted free agent. It'll get done.

• The Buffalo Sabres have brought in veteran center Rob Niedermayer. The 35-year-old, who was UFA, is a solid third-line center. It's believed that Pittsburgh and Edmonton were also after Niedermayer, but he chose the Sabres in the end.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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