The Kovalchuk Problem

Any sports fan would want their team to acquire a player considered to be among the best in the league. That is a given. The only means of acquisition are through the entry draft, a trade with another franchise, or through free agency.

The obvious preference for acquisition is the entry draft, because the initial costs to the team for doing so are zero. Sure, the argument could be made that team scouts are paid to make informed decisions on who to draft, and thus are the costs of the draft picks. The entertainment business would classify this as a below-the-line cost, in that no ‘talent’ or important assets are deducted.

This is the opposite of acquisition through trade, in which some sort of asset(s) would be directly swapped for said player. These assets could be a rostered player, a prospect, a draft pick, or in some cases, cold hard cash. In most cases trades end up with pretty equal results for both teams. But in some cases (especially if Roberto Luongo is involved), the results are disastrously one-sided.

Free agency seems simple; offer desired player a contract and if he accepts, everyone is happy. But in the salary cap era of the NHL, these contracts are more highly scrutinized, publicized, and shape the future of the franchise more than ever before. Even in the wake of the Blackhawks’ impressive Cup victory, concerns are on the horizon for the future of the team due to large contracts committed to a number of players. The decision to sign Marian Hossa to a 12 year, $62 million dollar contract was the correct one for the 2009-2010 season, but it could cause complications for years to come.

According to a statement by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the salary cap situation, which was previously expected to decrease, will remain fairly static, or as he puts it, “I think we’re going to be flat or maybe up a tad.”
The 2009-2010 salary cap was 56.8 million.

Those who think that Los Angeles would be a good fit for Kovalchuk have reason to. The Kings have some cap room and are on the track to success. But in ’09, all summer long, GM Dean Lombardi preached the concept of ‘the right fit’.

I do not mean to knock Kovalchuk in any way; he is the most significant free agent the NHL has seen in the last decade. He will don a new jersey this fall and he will flirt with 50 goals as long as he plays with a competent center. He has never been accused of being a bad teammate or bad in the locker room and his questionable career plus/minus can easily be refuted with the statistics of the Thrashers teams he has played for, combined with his time on the power play.

His contract will be one of the top 3 heftiest contracts in the league. It will be at least 5 years and will be straddle the $10 million/year line.

Though he is under contract for the upcoming season, it is important to note that Drew Doughty will be getting a new contract sometime this year. Some think it will be as early as July 1, the first day it’s legal to do so. I can tell you this much: it will be substantial, as it should be. The league hasn’t seen a 20 year old defenseman nominated for the Norris trophy since Bobby Orr. Only if something goes horribly wrong will Doughty ever wear anything but Kings jersey.

The Kings have the following salaries currently committed to players for next season:

Kopitar $6.8 million
Smyth $6.25 million
Handzus $4 million
Stoll $3.6 million
Williams $3.5 million
Doughty $3.475 million
Scuderi $3.4 million
Brown $3.175 million
Greene $2.95 million
Quick $1.8 million
Johnson $1.425 million
Parse $900,000
Clifford $900,000
Cliche $900,000
Bernier $843,333
Simmonds $821,666
Ersberg $750,000
Drewiske $616,667
Harrold $583,333
Westgarth $525,000

That’s 20 players at just over $47 million, and of those 20, the players who were on the big club’s roster at the end of the season are comprised of 9 forwards, 4 defensemen, and 1 goalie. That means there are 9 positions to fill with under $10 million to do so.

Of course, there are capable candidates whom are already under contract in the system. The only player that is obviously ready for the NHL is Bernier, and look for a future article breaking down the options the Kings have at the goalie position for next season.

So clearly, saying that the Kings have the cap room is not quite that simple. Some significant salary would have to be dumped, and of those listed above, I’m not sure which one I’d want to move. The contracts are all pretty reasonable, and again, Doughty’s will likely be at least twice what it currently stands after this season.

Though the financial situation is the main concern, there are other issues to address.

This type of metaphor is accidentally becoming the theme of Crowned Royal, but the Kovalchuk problem is much like that of dating. Everyone wants to woo the hottest girl, but often times it is not worth the headaches that come with it. Sure she’ll look good on your arm and impress your friends, but with that may come demands for lavish gifts and constant attention. Worse yet, when it counts most, she may not be there to support you. (see Heatley, Dany)

I for one am guilty of campaigning for Dean Lombardi to go after Heatley in 2009. This of course was before signing Ryan Smyth, who as Dean promised, was the right fit. And now, with Kovalchuk available who is an even more proven goal scorer and certainly less of a prima-donna, I’m here to say the following:

Stay the course.

Oh Ilya. I would love to see him in a Kings jersey. I would rejoice upon hearing the news, I would bring a sign to the first game and I would probably even buy said jersey.

But the only way this would be good for more than just next season is if it was for the right terms: Dean’s terms. DL has never been one to back up the Brinks truck, and this type of conservative spending is one of the practices that has put the Kings in the favorable situation that they are in now. If he can somehow talk Kovalchuk into accepting less money for a shorter duration than other teams will be offer him, it would be nothing short of magic. Though not of nearly the same magnitude, Dean performed a similar trick with Jack Johnson, who’s $1.5 million/year contract was surprisingly low when it was announced, so perhaps anything is possible.

The reality of this is that it would be a miracle, and though the last miracle on ice did involve Russians on American soil, it took place on the other end of the country and that is perhaps where Ilya will remain.

Maybe I am getting old, because even a year ago I can’t imagine NOT doing anything in my power to go after the hot chick, regardless of the consequences. I guess with maturity comes the willingness to pass on an opportunity to take home a swimsuit model if it could jeopardize the future.

In Dean we trust.

Sources  –,

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2 Responses to “The Kovalchuk Problem”
  1. Joe says:

    Your math is bad.

    You say…

    That’s 20 players at just over $47 million, and of those 20, the players who were on the big club’s roster at the end of the season are comprised of 9 forwards, 4 defensemen, and 1 goalie. That means there are 9 positions to fill with under $10 million to do so.

    you were talking about 20 players costing $47m which would leave a little more than $9m for 3 roster spots. If you take only roster players from last year that are still under contract, there are 16 for a total of $44,713,000 leaving $14,926,666 in CAP space (that includes bonus cushion) for 7 players not $10m for 9 spots.

    Now if you include Doughty’s don’t use Doughty’s bonus (we’ll assume he’ll hit it), deduct $2.6m from the $14.9 in CAP space and that leaves $12.3m for 7 players. It isn’t as dire as you are making it sound.

  2. crownedroyal says:

    That is assuming that all of those roster players will make the big club. There are still going to be some in limbo that are rostered but not getting too much playing time. Do we really want another year of utility man Harrold hanging around? I agree he is on the cheap, but the point is let’s not assume there is plenty of space because even with $15 mil available, according your math, spending $10 mil on 1 would only leave $5 mil for 6 players. Sure it’s possible, but that would require putting some pressure on some of the younger players under contract to fill roles on the big club immediately, and that is just not DL’s style.

    Thanks for reading.

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