The Kovalchuk Problem, Part 2: From Russia With Love

Dean,

No thanks.

From Russia With Love,

Ilya.

I’ll be the first to admit- this is a crude photoshop at best, and Dean Lombardi looks eerily similar to ET.

But it’s July 4, and about the most American tradition we have is checking the news to see if our local professional ice hockey team has signed the coveted free agent European forward… er.. OK well at least James Bond is Ameri.. what?

OK really the date is of no importance except for the fact that Ilya Kovalchuk has now been in free agency limbo without an NHL team to call his own for 4 whole days.

Of course, Kovalchuk is not trapped in the same limbo that some other notable free agents are; comrade Evgeni Nabokov, for example, legitimately may not have a team to go to at any point this season, as every single NHL club already has at least one proven starting goalie rostered (or two non-proven starters coughMONTREALcough). A case could be made both for and against if Washington’s youngster Semyon Varlamov, yet another Ruskie, is a proven starter, and I think think this a viable option for Nabby or fellow free agent netminder Marty Turco.

But I digress.

Those last four days have seemed like an eternity for any fans hoping their team would sign the alluring left-winger.

Now, on the day of our country’s independence, Helene Elliot, legendary LA Times journalist, is reporting that Kovalchuk will not be coming to the Kings. This is based on Dean Lombardi apparently telling her, “We took our best shot to meet his needs and the team’s,” meaning essentially that Kovalchuk’s wants more than he can offer.

I hate to say it, but this comes as no surprise.

Unfortunately, we do not know what is really going on behind closed doors, only the tidbits of information given to a very select few, and in the case of this most recent news, one individual. The void left by a mostly putrid absence of facts about the current situation has been filled by rampant, glorious speculation by most – present company not excluded.

Speculation about

where he might go / where he should go,

and on

how much money he wants / how much money he should take

is infinitely more abundant than actual reports of

where Ilya wants to go / how much money Ilya wants.

Granted, these facts are not likely to surface when someone is looking to get paid.

I will admit that some of the speculation is based on fact.

For example, it can be reasonably deduced that Kovalchuk is looking to get paid more than he was before (previous contract: 6.4MM annual cap hit) . The salary cap is higher, much higher, now at 59.4MM, up from $39MM when he signed said contract in 2005. Based on that 50% increase in cap, if Kovy’s contract follows suit and we assume that he was paid fairly under his previous contract, then he would be due about 9.5MM per season.

Another fact, or for the sake of accuracy, another report, is that a team in the KHL, the Russian professional league, has offered Kovalchuk $40MM over 3 years, averaging roughly $14MM per season. That offer needs two qualifiers: 1) it’s more or less ‘tax free’ because he’ll be in Russia 2) he’ll be in Russia.

Regardless of what some might say about living in Russia vs. the U.S., there is at least one important point for staying in the NHL versus taking the money and running (er running then taking the money in this case): that is the hockey history books.

In his 8 years in the NHL, he has only scored LESS than 38 goals in a season ONCE – his rookie year in which he played 65 games. He still notched 29. Those numbers are Mike Gartner-esque, and should he keep up this pattern of consistency AND durability, he’s headed for 700 territory, which is occupied by only 6 players in history. The possibility of this would be enough to keep me on American soil and in the NHL.

In the previous article of this series, I said that the Dean Lombardi and the Kings should NOT sign Ilya. Based on all of this, I still think he is going to get signed by someone for roughly $10MM. This number is fairly justifiable, but I just think that unless someone is the second coming of Gretzky, that contract is too much for most teams to handle, including the Kings.

Ilya Kovalchuk, as much as fans might want him to be, is not the second coming of Wayne Gretzky.


One thing may no longer be speculated: that Ilya Kovalchuk could be a Los Angeles King.


Ilya,

Good luck to you, as well as to your future team.

The World is Not Enough,

Reed Kaufman

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