Ilya Kovalchuk isn't worthy of a big raise

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kovaldevils.jpgIn a league where the salary cap should hover around the $58-$59 million mark for the 2010-11 season, you don’t get a lot of wiggle room when it comes to signing big money players. Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins; only true cap savants would argue that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren’t worth their dual $8.7 million annual cap hits, but there’s no doubt that they force the team into a top-heavy structure.

So, I’m sorry, but I disagree with the message of Dimitry Chesnokov’s piece about Ilya Kovalchuk being worth big money. Particularly when Kovalchuk is being compared to bigger impact/more complete players.

Kovalchuk is 27. He is three years “ahead” of Lecavalier. He may probably only be compared to Crosby and Ovechkin — Kovalchuk has been consistent throughout his career.

Moreover, when Lecavalier signed his mega deal he was 0.86 points per game. Staal was 0.87 points per game. Coming into this free agency, Kovalchuk is over a point per game. He has been a consistent performer.

For one thing, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin (not to mention Evgeni Malkin) are at least a rung up the imaginary star player ladder above Kovalchuk. Crosby, for one, has a ludicrous big-game resume, a clear advantage in making his teammates better thanks to his superior playmaking skills and – gasp – an actual interest in playing defense. Ovechkin is everything Kovalchuk is, but better. He’s also a physical force, so he has a better chance of making an impact on a game even when he’s not scoring goals. Oh, and they’re both a few years younger, so while Kovalchuk’s game is probably plateauing, the two stars still might improve.

Even comparing him to Eric Staal and Vincent Lecavalier is faulty, for two reasons: a) Staal and Lecavalier have not only advanced past the first round of the playoffs but actually won a Cup and b) the two players signed with the teams that drafted them. Kovalchuk had his chance to sign a stupid contract in a similar situation in Atlanta, but he wanted to have his cake and eat it too.

After the jump, I’ll provide a good NHL parallel for Kovalchuk.


heatersharks.jpgSo, what is a fair comparison for Kovalchuk? I’d say his former Thrashers teammate, Dany Heatley, is the closest match. Both are one-dimensional players with amazing finishing ability and a naked indifference to defense. Each player seems like a bit of a headache; Heatley forced his way out of Ottawa and Atlanta while Kovalchuk ignored the Thrashers naming him their captain and surrounding him with Russian players.

The parallels extend to stats, too. Kovalchuk scored 338 goals and 642 points in 621 career games while Heatley put up 299 goals and 625 points in 589 regular season games. Heatley has the slight advantage in career points per game (1.06 to Kovalchuk’s 1.03), although I’d attribute the plus/minus disadvantage the two players have to quality of teammates.

Here’s the rub: Heatley’s yearly cap hit is $7.5 million, which is the mark Kovalchuk’s last deal made. I can’t imagine that Kovalchuk would be happy making the same salary as he did with his last contract, but honestly, I think that’s about what he’s worth. Frankly, I’m not even sure if I’d want my team to shell out that money for him, either. Kovalchuk is a powerplay specialist who plays protected minutes and has a career 1-8 playoff record.

Look, there’s no doubt that Kovalchuk is one of the league’s best goal scorers. The ability to put the puck in the net is not a common skill. I’m not saying he’s a worthless player, just that a team that would spend $100 million on the flighty Russian will be unhappy with their investment.

In the next post, I’ll look at some sensible landing spots for Kovalchuk.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) scores a goal against Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand celebrates after scoring on a penalty shot during the overtime period of the Boston Bruins 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in an NHL hockey game in Boston Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.