Thursday, July 8, 2010
The Kovalchuk Sweepstakes: The Search for the Right Team
By: Tim Brennan
Since the opening of free agency, the player on top of everyone's list hasn't moved anywhere. Ilya Kovalchuk continues to find his perfect match and has gotten plenty of generous offers. Along with the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders and Los Angeles Kings have also expressed interest in the 27 year old Russian sniper. The only problem in negotiations between Kovalchuk and these teams is the cap issue that may result in signing the first overall pick from 2001 to a long term, big money deal.
On the second day of free agency, TSN's Darren Dreger reported that the Islanders were willing to throw everything towards bringing Kovalchuk to the Isle to play alongside the team's young nucleus of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Jack Hillen. The reported offer from the Islanders was a 10 year, $100 million deal, which would pay the two time 50 goal scorer $10 million a season. Hold on, everyone say it with me, "Ouch". Haven't the Isles learned from their mistake of the 10 year, $87.5 million contract given to Alexei Yashin? The Islanders overpaid for the star player, bought out his contract halfway through and are still paying him despite him having been playing in the KHL for the last 3 seasons.
The team that Kovalchuk spent the latter part of the season on, the Devils, haven't given up on getting him under contract yet. As it stands, reports have a possible deal set up that Kovie would return to New Jersey for a 7 year deal worth $60 million. The deal however would cause a problem with the cap, meaning GM Lou Lamoriello would have to move some players around in order to fit under the restrictions. As of this moment, the Devils have remained silent about the negotiations between the two camps but it seems more likely that Ilya might return to New Jersey based on the fact that he wants to play on a team that has an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.
Kovalchuk's rumored destination before the eventual trade to New Jersey, Los Angeles can't seem to make up their mind. They were front runners on July 1st to land a deal with Kovie, then they stepped away citing that the money he wanted was too high of a price, with all the young talent on the Kings needing to be locked up in the next couple of seasons. On Wednesday, the Kings reportedly came back in the hunt for Kovalchuk, offering him two different proposals: 13 years, $84.5 million or 12 years, $63 million. Both were turned down by Kovalchuk which prompted the Kings to bow out of the race earlier today.
There are options still available to Kovalchuk, such as a possible return to Russia to become the face of the Kontinental Hockey League. Initially offered a contract of $12 million per season prior to the free agency period, Kovalchuk never responded so the deal was stricken. The team in question is SKA St. Petersburg, one rich with former NHL talent with the likes of Alexei Yashin, Sergei Zubov and Robert Esche gracing the team with their presence. They decided to pass on Kovalchuk and signed goaltender Evgeni Nabokov instead.
So the search for the perfect match for Kovalchuk continues on...