When it comes to Russian hockey players – from superstars to middling talent – the KHL will be a great negotiating tool for the foreseeable future. Sure, there are players from other countries who might elect to go there, too (as you could see with goalies Ray Emery – briefly – and Robert Esche). But for the most part, though, the close-to-home nature of the Kontinental Hockey League will beckon for Russians (and Czechs/Slovaks too).
So it should come as no surprise that star forward Ilya Kovalchuk – along with solid, if inconsistent performer Alex Frolov – were offered contracts with the rebel league. TSN reports that Kovalchuk may prefer to stay in the NHL, though, and won’t consider jumping ship to the KHL until he can weigh other offers once the free agency bidding war begins on July 1.
Sovsports, a Russian sports website, is reporting that SKA St Petersburg made an offer to Kovalchuk that would see the sniper make $30 million over a three-year span.
That’s big coin, even for an explosive star with such name recognition like Kovalchuk. While explaining his pessimism in keeping Frolov, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi also reveal why even an NHL team might not be able to provide such a lucrative offer for Kovalchuk. (Brandon also touched on the scarce chances the Kings have of re-signing the mercurial forward.)
“The other thing we’re confronting here, don’t forget, is the KHL, and they’re offering an awful lot of money, tax-free,” Lombardi told the radio station. “It’s almost like the WHA days, where the difference in dollars is huge.”
“I talked to him at the end of the year, and I said to myself, ‘This is no different than when Bobby Hull left.’ I’m sure he wanted to stay in the NHL, but when the money is that much different, you can’t blame him.”
Lombardi makes a good point, although the Hull parallels probably work just a touch better when speaking about Kovalchuk rather than Frolov.
To me, Kovalchuk’s decision will come down to whether or not he values playing in the most competitive league in the world. If he wants money alone (and really, it could very well be a significant difference), then the KHL is his best best. He can also make nice money in the NHL, though, and do so while testing himself at the highest level.
Along with Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov, Kovalchuk’s decision will be one of the biggest of the summer. Expect more analysis, speculation and information on that as the month goes along.