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.

Kuznetsov, bad breaks baffle Flyers in loss to Capitals

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 22: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his first period goal against Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on February 22, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Here’s what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday: the Florida Panthers lost. Yep, that’s about it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty lousy time, as the Washington Capitals beat them at home 4-1 tonight.

Washington’s big names came to play here, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring two goals. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights while Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin both grabbed two assists.

The Capitals won their first game after a bye week (following two losses), improving their Metropolitan Division lead to five points and Presidents’ Trophy edge over Minnesota to three.

The Flyers fail to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race, staying at 63 standings points in 60 games played. The Panthers are tied with the Islanders and Bruins at 66 points, though Boston can change the picture ever so slightly against Anaheim (still in action) tonight.

The bottom line, again, is that the Flyers failed in a chance to get a little closer to that logjam for the last East spot.

Of course, plenty of Flyers fans will grumble about missed opportunities and iffy calls. Mike Milbury broke down the early setbacks that made life that much tougher for Philly:

Philly couldn’t overcome the Capitals and that bad luck, making their playoff hopes a little dimmer as the trade deadline approaches.

Oilers win on rare Russell goal, Panthers fall out of second wild card spot

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The Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers might end up being costly if Andrej Sekera misses significant time.

But, hey, at least it was a win.

The two rising squads engaged in a back-and-forth game, with the Oilers winning in regulation. Maybe fittingly with Edmonton leaking defensemen lately: Kris Russell was the guy to score the game-winner, set up by Connor McDavid‘s blazing speed and a nice pass by Leon Draisaitl.

It was Russell’s first goal in more than a year.

The Oilers will remain in the second spot in the Pacific at the end of the night whether the Anaheim Ducks beat the Boston Bruins or not. Interestingly, this puts them in a reasonable position to catch the Sharks for first place in the division, too.

1. Sharks – 77 points in 60 games
2. Oilers – 74 points in 61 games
3. Ducks – 72 points in 61 games (in progress vs. Boston)

The Oilers likely had some fans out East tonight, as this loss pushes Florida down the wild card rankings. They’re actually out of the second spot thanks to tiebreakers.

Second wild card spot: Bruins – 66 points in 59 games, 30 wins and 28 ROW (in progress)

Islanders – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 27 ROW
Panthers – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 25 ROW

The Isles would move into the second spot if Boston loses in regulation, underscoring just how congested this situation is. But either way, the Panthers won’t be in the East’s top eight at the end of the night.

With Gibson out, Ducks recall interesting goalie: Enroth

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.

Considering how much the Anaheim Ducks lean on John Gibson, it’s troubling that he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Even so, it’s interesting to note that such a situation prompted the team to recall Jhonas Enroth, who will back up Jonathan Bernier during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

With the way Bernier’s been playing at times, it’s not impossible that Enroth could play as soon as tonight. But if he doesn’t you have to wonder if the Ducks might feel compelled to throw a start his way in the next week.

The trade deadline is coming, and while the goalie market is really cold, some of that slow movement likely comes from how cap-unfriendly netminders like Ben Bishop might be.

But what about Enroth? His cap hit is $750K this season, and while he thoroughly unimpressed Mike Babcock with rapid speed in Toronto, he was fantastic as a backup in Los Angeles last season and has been outstanding lately for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

All things considered, it’s almost a little surprising the Ducks aren’t throwing him right into the deep end tonight. If you’re a team with poor backup goaltending like the Edmonton Oilers or any number of other teams,* why wouldn’t you give the Ducks a call?

Maybe they need to see him in action in the NHL before doing so, making this an intriguing scenario to follow.

And, hey, maybe the Ducks themselves might decide that he’s a better option behind Gibson than Bernier. Stranger things have happened.

* – The Leafs might qualify, honestly … but again, Babs doesn’t seem to be an Enroth fan.

Another defenseman down: Niskanen won’t return for Caps tonight (Video)

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Uh oh.

There are only three games on the docket for Wednesday, but injuries are a factor in all of them. The Washington Capitals must now worry about underrated defenseman Matt Niskanen after he left tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers with a lower-body injury.

Niskanen took a shift to end the second period, only not to return, much like Andrej Sekera did in tonight’s Edmonton Oilers game.

The Capitals blueliner got hurt after falling awkwardly following a collision with Radko Gudas, as you can see from the video above.