As the clock continues to tick forward in NHL free agency, the biggest question in the NHL looms larger and larger. Where will Ilya Kovlachuk end up?
No, the "Kovalchuk sweepstakes" is not nearly as big as LeBronathon; but when it comes to the NHL, Kovalchuk's name is in the upper stratosphere of truly elite players.
Already we have seen some interesting developments when it comes to Kovalchuk. For starters he hit the tables demanding a 10-year, $100-million dollar contract from whoever wanted to court him. Then, when he didn't receive the contract numbers he wanted from the Los Angeles Kings -- the supposed front-runners in the Kovalchuk sweepstakes -- he told the media that "he did not want to go to a team that wasn't willing to spend money to build a championship team." Take a moment to take that in. He wants a team to give him a contract which would take up 16 percent of what a team is allotted to spend each year under the salary cap, and then he wants that team to spend more money in order to win. Not to toot my own horn, but on Rink Side Radio last night Travis and I talked about that little gem from Kovalchuk, I suggest that you look into it.
Soon after the Kings were officially "out" of the sweepstakes it was rumored that the New York Islanders had made a 10-year, $100 million-dollar contract offer. This particular situation seemed to make the most sense when it came to the hockey world. The Islanders, who are close to nine million dollars away from the cap floor, would be able to give Kovalchuck the money that he desired and have more money to spend "on building a championship team."
But more so than the money, the two sides just seemed to fit each other. Kovalchuk would be the face of the franchise (again) but this time in the New York hockey market. No, the Islanders are nowhere near the draw that the New York Rangers are; but when the Islanders are winning, they are a better draw than Atlanta (at least as of right now).
When it came to the Islanders, they would finally have a huge name on their roster -- sorry, John Tavares doesn't count yet -- and the best part is that he is only 26 years old. They would also be able to parlay Kovalchuk into basically forcing Long Island's hand for getting the Lighthouse project up and running.
On the ice, Kovalchuk fits into the Islanders style of play. With a bunch of young players, the team would have no problem giving Kovlachuk free reign to do whatever he wishes with his ice time -- and oh how much ice time he would get. Simple as it is, the two sides seemed to fit perfectly for each other.
But alas, the Islanders apparently never tendered an offer for Kovalchuk, and as it stands they don't intend to.
Enter the New Jersey Devils, arguably one of the teams in on the Kovalchuk sweepstakes but one which many considered to be a "dark horse" on July 1st. But today, July 6th, the Devils are suddenly not only the front runners, but apparently the only players on the table (in terms of NHL teams). Their official offer -- a 7-year, $60-million dollar contract -- has been received by Kovalchuk, but not accepted. Many experts, though, will tell you it is much more a matter of when rather than if.
But why are the Devils so interested in Kovalchuck? He is arguably the last person I would consider a "Lou Lamoriello" type player. He plays no defense -- the only style of hockey that the Devils play --a nd for as good as a player as he is, he has never been able to push his team over the edge when it comes to winning big games. He is 1-8 in his playoff career, and although his 0-4 playoff record in Atlanta would have been excused, his 1-4 record in New Jersey cannot be. In Atlanta he was one of the only stars on a team that played well above expectations and talent. On the Devils he was one of the final pieces of the puzzle, a player who was expected to push New Jersey into Stanley Cup contention.
Needless to say none of that happened. His stay in New Jersey was not overly successful -- he went from 31 goals in 49 games in Atlanta, to 10 goals in 27 games with New Jersey -- and in the end the entire reason he was brought in (to help the Devils become Cup contenders) turned out to be an utter failure.
So while the Kovalchuk sweepstakes are winding down, you would think, one has to wonder where he will end up and why.
Don't count out the KHL either where Kovalchuk was offered a 3-year, $45-million dollar contract. If it really is all about the money, then the decision wont be that hard, but I don't think that's the case.
Also, never take Glen Sather and the Rangers out of overpaying for a big name, with bigger expectations.
Regardless he will end up somewhere, weather it be in the NHL or the KHL the Kovalchuk saga is drawing to an end ... we hope.