Lebron James, Ilya Kovalchuk make us wait, but Kovalchuk might want to change course

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lebron.jpgWhile July 1 was “Lebron James Day” for many sports fans, hockey-crazed people thought they’d finally get some answers about the NHL’s big free agent fish Ilya Kovalchuk. Thursday was supposed to be a day of closure regarding the two soon-to-be-huge-earners, but both basketball and hockey fans will have to wait to see the end of all the speculation.

The two players have quite a bit in common, although Lebron James has had far more success in the playoffs and Kovalchuk isn’t generally considered to be at the top of the NHL ladder (although some might say he’s just behind Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby). They both bring a unique set of offensive skills to the table, each player rejected offers to stay with the teams who drafted them* and people often make excuses when they lose based on the quality of their teammates.

* – Of course, Lebron might actually return to the Cleveland Cavaliers while the odds of Kovalchuk returning to the Atlanta Thrashers hover around zero percent.

James seems to have the NBA world at his fingertips, with plenty of options on where he’d like to land and whom he wishes to play with. Kovalchuk, on the other hand, seems like he’s in a cat-and-mouse game with the Los Angeles Kings being by far the most viable suitor outside of the KHL. While insiders point to market size, quality of teammates and perhaps even desirable climates when talking about factors in Lebron’s decision, many feel that money is the main sticking point for Kovalchuk and Kings GM Dean Lombardi.

Helene Elliott paints a not-so-promising picture regarding the Kings’ negotiations with the Russian left wing.

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They have the resources and cap space and face little competition for the two-time 50-goal scorer. But they didn’t reach an agreement Thursday and General Manager Dean Lombardi, through a team spokesman, declined to comment on the state of the talks.

Word from various corners of the hockey universe was that Kovalchuk is aiming high – think $10 million a year for 10 to 12 years – and the Kings are uncomfortable with that. The deal isn’t dead, but its pulse could be less than robust. The New Jersey Devils might be hovering, ready to remind Kovalchuk that travel in the East is less taxing on the body and worth taking a slightly lower payday.

It all comes down to priorities with Kovalchuk. He needs to answer some tough questions, such as “Do I really want to play in the NHL or just make the biggest impact possible on my bank account?” and “Can I accept the fact that playing for a contender often means taking less money?”

I’ve already written that Kovalchuk isn’t worthy of a big pay raise and I think the first day of contract talks reveals that to be a league-wide sentiment. There is no doubt that he’s talented and steadily put up big goal totals. Yet who is going to give a $100 million contract to a player who – either because of a lack of quality teammates, his own shortcomings or a combination of the two – never really won anything or even excelled on a big stage?

While Lebron James can keep his head in the clouds and continue to picture decadent dream sequences in which he gets to have his basketball cake and eat it too, Kovalchuk might want to keep his feet on the ground before visions of a big payday turn into a hockey nightmare.