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Talbot adds heat to Winter Classic

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Thank goodness the NHL still has a few guys like Max Talbot.

Today's athletes are generally so concerned with image that they are constantly guarding themselves against saying something controversial. If you've watched a lot of post-game NHL interviews, it wouldn't surprise you that hockey players are the most restrained of all the major sports.

So, when Talbot went on a Pittsburgh radio show on Tuesday morning and called Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin a word that is most accurately used to describe a feminine hygiene product, like it or not, I bet it grabbed your attention.

And the fact that the insult was hurled just hours before Talbot represented the Penguins at a Heinz Field press conference to officially announce the Winter Classic contest between the Pens and Caps, makes the gritty Pittsburgh forward a marketing genius.

Some might say that Talbot was simply caught up in the morning zoo atmosphere of the WXDX program, but the timing of the verbal barb can't be a coincidence.

It seems to be Max Talbot's nature to stir the pot, on and off the ice.
Even though Talbot was somewhat diplomatic and certainly cleaned up the language when asked about Ovechkin at the Heinz Field press conference, it's hard to believe he simply slipped up on the morning show. Talbot was on 105.9 The X to talk about the Winter Classic and about 20 seconds after being asked about Ovechkin, Talbot said "I just hate the guy".

One of the hosts followed up that remark by saying that's why he wanted Talbot on the show and not Sidney Crosby because he knew Sid would have chosen the PC route in answering questions about Ovie. Talbot -- a Stanley Cup hero for Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals against Detroit in 2009 -- didn't need to add fire to the already smoldering rivalry between the Caps and Pens, but it seems to be his nature to stir the pot, on and off the ice.

How long this Talbot-created controversy will last is now largely in Ovechkin's hands. If the Russian icon chooses to take Talbot's bait we could be in for the type of offseason war of words that is not a frequent occurrence in the buttoned-up world of the NHL.

My guess is Ovechkin will fire back with some sort of jab regarding the gap in talent between he and Talbot, but you never really know how, or if, Ovie will respond. Like his Penguins detractor, the Capitals sniper is an interesting guy in his own right.

I'm sure Gary Bettman is so happy he could kiss Talbot for his remarks. After all, the commissioner already has a marquee matchup for his league's precious outdoor game and any added interest could only help TV ratings come January 1.

The only problem is that the Pens and Caps won't face each other in the regular season until December 23 in Washington, giving a whole lot of time for the Talbot-Ovie spat to go away. But, rest assured, the media won't forget and we'll be here to remind everyone of Massengill-gate, every chance we get. And don't worry, the fans will join in on the fun as well. In fact, I can already amuse myself by imagining the signs that will be visible at the Verizon Center in late December.

I know the whole thing is childish and possibly even offensive, but covering hockey in the summer can get a bit boring. That is, unless people continue to ask Max Talbot questions about a certain Capitals superstar.

KOVALCHUK SAGA ENTERS LEGAL LIMBO PHASE

Another reason to cheer the Talbot-Ovie story is that the Ilya Kovalchuk free agency saga is getting too boring for words. As if the chase to land the superstar winger could drag on any longer, Kovalchuk's future, at least for the time being, is now for an arbitrator to decide.

The yet-to-be-named arbitrator will determine whether Kovalchuk's contract with the New Jersey Devils, a 17-year, $102 million deal, is valid or if it "deliberately circumvented" the salary cap, as the NHL said it did when it rejected the contract last week.

Since free agency began on July 1, the biggest talent to be had on the open market this summer has been rumored to be heading to Los Angeles, New Jersey and even St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida). It appeared that the Devils had finally sealed the deal with their offer last week, but the league stepped in and rejected the contract. On Monday, The NHL Players Association filed a grievance on Kovalchuk's behalf, prompting the need for an arbitrator.

Now, all we can do is wait for the union and the league to agree on an arbitrator. After one is selected, the arbitrator will have 48 hours to decide on the validity of the contract.

No matter which way the arbitrator rules, it is seeming like more of a sure thing that the Devils are going to land Kovalchuk. After all, they've already done the hard part and worked out a deal that made both sides happy. If the arbitrator says the deal is valid, then Kovalchuk will head back to Newark, where he played the end of last season following a trade with Atlanta. However, if arbitration winds up favoring the league on this situation, there still should be no reason the Devils and Kovalchuk can't tweak the deal a bit and make it work.

Hopefully, this marks the final phase of Kovalchuk's search for a long-term destination. If not, I guess hockey enthusiasts will go back to what we've all been doing since July 1, waiting for one of the NHL's most talented scorers to finally make up his mind.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.

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Dan Di Sciullo

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