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.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Vlasic on the unenviable task of matching up against Crosby

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 and Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada look on during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff against the United States on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Plenty of people believe that the San Jose Sharks’ defense is superior to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel, but it’s one thing to be better on paper. When you’re on the ice, against a speedy and talented team, can you really stop the Penguins?

All signs point to sorely underrated Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drawing the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Sidney Crosby.

Vlasic, a former Team Canada teammate of Crosby (as you can see from this post’s main image), realizes that he’ll have his hands full. In fact, he seems to believe that this will be an even tougher challenge than trying to solve St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fantastic all-around defender isn’t exactly expecting to reinvent the wheel in his strategy against Crosby.

“It will be the same as in the first three series,” Vlasic said, via The Hockey News. “We’re playing against the top players on every time – Sid, (Evgeni) Malkin and those types of guys for Pittsburgh. Me and (Justin Braun) will just keep doing what we did, taking away time and space and hopefully it works out.”

The two players have had glowing things to say about each other for some time, but don’t be surprised if this high-level competition turns those happy thoughts into hard feelings.

It stands as one of the matchups to watch in what could be a fresh and fascinating Stanley Cup Final.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

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Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.