Saturday, July 17, 2010

On Kovalchuk


If the NHL was as popular in the United States as the NBA is, or if ESPN ever talked about hockey, I wonder if the ongoing Ilya Kovalchuk drama would be as big a story as Lebron James' departure from Cleveland. Probably not, because Kovalchuk isn't a hometown boy leaving his team, but it surely would be a close second.

I, for one, am just about tired of Kovalchuk and at this point would like to see him scoot off to Mother Russia and leave the NHL behind. I've never really been a big fan of Kovalchuk to begin with (but thanks for helping win me a fantasy championship last season, Ilya!) but it didn't quite border on hatred.

I'm at that point now.

What it boils down to is Kovalchuk wanting to be the highest paid, or at least second highest, player in the NHL. Since he was buried in Atlanta for all but the last month and a half of last season, he also wants to go to a place to win. Yet he can't seem to get it through his thick skull that if he averages $9 to $10 million a season over 10 years, he'll seriously screw up his team's salary cap and hamper the general manager's ability to surround him with talent.

It says something that only two teams appeared to be major players in the Kovalchuk Sweepstakes: New Jersey and Los Angeles. And if the Devils pursue him too much, that'll hurt their chances to retain Zach Parise next summer.

So we're down to the Kings, pretty much. Not even Kovalchuk's countrymen in the KHL are throwing dollars rubles at him. If reports are accurate, he's only being offered something like $9 million for three years. (I don't remember if that's annual or total. Presumably annual.)

However, we've heard at least twice that Kovalchuk-to-Kings is dead. Maybe three times. One of those we even got a "dead for good this time." Yet what was all the almost-but-not really-news on Twitter Friday? That Kovalchuk and the Kings cleared some hurdles in negotiations.

As a Twitter hater, I blame that. No one's actually reporting anything, but everyone wants to be first with it. They're as bad as those losers on message boards who post "FIRST!" in a forum any time a new post is made. How many times do Kovalchuk and the Kings have to go around and around before these reporters wait until he actually signs somewhere before saying anything?

But that's not the point. The point is Kovalchuk is being a stubborn fool who's showing all he really cares about is money.

I used to think Los Angeles was a prime location for his services. He's just about what they need - a legit, consistent and elite goal scoring threat. Maybe Eastern writers would even pay attention to the Kings with his kind of star power on the squad. Never mind the emerging greatness of Anze Kopitar, the great budding power forward in Dustin Brown, next Olympics USA darling Jon Quick, and of course Drew Doughty.

Now I'm wondering how Kovalchuk's ego will fit in that locker room.

Look, if you want to be somewhere, you'll make it happen. You'll lower your demands and come to a reasonable compromise that gets you yours and also leaves the team with room to pay other players. Dean Lombardi is not going to risk not having the salary cap space to pay Doughty and Jack Johnson, who are both restricted free agents in 2011.

Assuming Kovalchuk signs in LA - at least until we get another "it's dead, honestly, I mean it, pinkie swear" on Twitter - then the Kings become very dangerous. On paper. I wonder if, given all the drama the last two and a half weeks, some of the current Kings players might not silently ask about Kovalchuk's true desires, if he signed in LA because the Kings were the only team offering him boatloads of cash or if he actually wants to be part of a winning organization.

In the regular season, it'll probably work without a problem. When push comes to shove in the playoffs though, and Kovalchuk's heart and grit are tested, we'll see if he reacts like he has in his previous playoff outings - that would be three goals (one into an empty net) in nine games - or if he's actually managed to find some toughness in his game.

Regardless, Kovalchuk's character has already taken a hit in my book. This isn't an aging player looking for one last payday before the end. This is a player in his prime (he's 27) who's been on losing teams most of his career.

Do you want to win, or do you just want money?

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