Are Ilya Kovalchuk's salary demands tied to Alex Ovechkin rivalry?

CBC's Elliotte Friedman wrote his final "30 Thoughts" column of the summer Friday (a temporary loss for all hockey fans, to be sure) and focused on Ilya Kovalchuk's(notes) continued lingering on the free-agent market. It included this interesting bit of scuttlebutt about his demands:

A couple teams called about shorter-term deals, but were rebuffed. (I was told the Rangers offered $15 million over two years, but the organization denied that.) There is a belief among teams, agents and players that a "friendly rivalry" with Alexander Ovechkin has him fixated on passing Ovechkin's annual average value of $9.5 million. For his sake, that's got to stop.

I believe Kovalchuk wants three things: to stay in the NHL, to win and to be the sport's salary standard-bearer. If he were solely about the money, he'd have already joined Evgeni Nabokov(notes) in Russia. But, what he's doing right now is providing ammunition for everyone who believes he is selfish and only cares about cash.

The more you think about Kovalchuk and Ovechkin's $124 million, 13-year contract with the Washington Capitals, the more it seems to fit with his behavior this summer.

The oft-quoted $100 million figure seemed like a mandatory benchmark for Kovalchuk, and Ovechkin got nine figures. The oft-quoted $10 million annually he's allegedly asked for, at least at the front end of the contract, would eclipse Ovechkin's salary. The KHL escape pod hasn't been activated, perhaps because Ovechkin's in the NHL until 2021 (when he'll make $10 million as a base salary, by the way).

What about the long-term aspect of his demands? Playing Hockey Freud for a moment, it could be because Ovechkin became a franchise player for the Capitals, turned their fortunes around and has been celebrated for doing so. He didn't go hockey mercenary like some teams want Kovalchuk to go. As Jeff Schultz of the AJC reported last year, Kovalchuk saw that transformation first hand:

Ovechkin, his close friend, signed a monster contract last season: 13 years, $124 million. He made a commitment to the city and the franchise. Both sides in the Thrashers-Kovalchuk negotiations can paint this publicly anyway they like. But the bottom line is, he just hasn't decided whether to make that commitment yet.

He greeted Ovechkin with a chest bump in the morning. Kovalchuk was on the ice at Philips Arena, Ovechkin had just emerged from the visiting locker room by the Caps' bench. They've played together in the Olympics and World Championships. They spend time together in Moscow in the summer. Now both are back in the NHL and Ovechkin has something Kovalchuk wants.

But Friedman's right: If this is about beating another contract or aping what a close friend did for another NHL market, then Kovalchuk's own obsessions are just as prominent an influence as any market force on this drama dragging out.

For what it's worth, Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet is reporting that a Kovalchuk deal with the Los Angeles Kings is "close." But this saga has teased us more than the "Hit Me Baby, One More Time" video played on a continuous 24-hour loop, so who knows?

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