In the last post, I discussed the fact that I don’t think Ilya Kovalchuk is worthy of a huge contract. Still, Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov makes a good point when he states that Kovalchuk is one of – if not the – biggest free agents of the post-lockout era. (Although, I’d argue from a team-changing standpoint, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer were bigger chips during the first off-season. But that’s just nitpicking. Besides, I don’t doubt that Kovalchuk will make far more money.)
Now, Kovalchuk wants to sign an enormous deal and play for a contender. The problem is that most players who sign those crazy, 20 percent of the cap type deals tend to do that with the team that drafted them or at least acquired them years before. In other words, the clubs knew that day was coming … instead of jumping at the chance one summer. And, really, how many good teams will have $8-$10 million of extra cap space left once they fill a 20-man roster?
So, let’s be a little bit more realistic and look at teams with at least a feasible chance of signing the explosive Russian. Your view of “feasible” and mine could differ. That’s why Al Gore invented Internet comments. Share them.
The KHL – OK, I know that Chesnokov denied the possibility of Kovalchuk going to Russia, but if money’s a big factor … the overseas league might make Kovalchuk their answer to the WHA and Bobby Hull (with a butt-cut). No NHL team can make Kovalchuk’s bank account as happy.
Atlanta – Just kidding.
New Jersey – The team that traded for him could conceivably keep him, but there are some potential snags. Could they try to give Brian Rolston the “Alex Mogilny treatment” and send him to the minors? Most importantly, Zach Parise’s ridiculously low $3.1 million cap hit will expire after the 2010-11 season. My guess is that they’ll want to keep the younger American more than the enigmatic Kovalchuk. The Devils bowed out of the first round of the playoffs with Kovalchuk. Should they really be impressed enough to wreck their cap for him?
After the jump, a few other teams with an outside chance.
Los Angeles – The Kings are in a similar boat as the Devils. Their answer to the Parise issue is all-world defenseman Drew Doughty, who will command a ridiculous (but warranted) contract after his rookie deal expires next season. With such a young team, Kovalchuk might make it difficult to keep their core together. Still, putting a dynamic scorer on the Kings could make them the new class of the Pacific, considering the changes the Sharks look to undergo.
Toronto – If they can move Tomas Kaberle, they’ll have a decent amount of cap space. Oh, and wouldn’t it be hilarious to watch the Toronto media go from “Beatles invasion Kovalchuk love fest” to “Tearing apart Kovalchuk for every flaw in his game”? This one might not win for realism, but it sure would be entertaining.
NY Islanders – Sure, they’re not very good – and they might not have the budget for him – but from a raw cap perspective, they’re rich. Garth Snow’s squad has almost $30 million in space and, even with Rick Dipietro’s foolish deal, not much of it is wasted.
St. Louis – This could be an interesting gamble. Paul Kariya ($6 million) and Keith Tkachuk ($2.5 million)’s expired deals almost equal the kind of cap hit Kovalchuk is looking for. The problem is that their stud defenseman Erik Johnson is a restricted free agent this summer and the team lacks a No. 1 goalie with Chris Mason as a UFA, so their near-$30 million of cap space is a bit misleading. Still, the Blues are one year removed from a playoff run, seem to have a semi-competent front office and could pay him the big bucks. It’s at least an intriguing possibility, right?
Now, there are other teams who could be in the running, but those are the most interesting candidates. Where do you expect Kovalchuk to land?