In 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.
So, 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.