When the Free Agent Frenzy period began Thursday afternoon, the list of rumored favorites to land the signature of Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) was pretty much whittled down to the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils, much to no one's surprise.
The Kings have the cap room and have been the popular prediction of many as the destination where the Russian sniper would land. New Jersey made the effort before the trade deadline to acquire Kovalchuk and weren't going to waste the package sent the Atlanta Thrashers' way for a two and a half month rental.
Late Friday evening, word got out that New York Islanders showed interest. Yes, the New York Islanders.
TSN's Darren Dreger broke the news, which ESPN's Pierre LeBrun confirmed via GM Garth Snow, that the Islanders were in on the Kovalchuk sweepstakes and that a possible offer could be in the 10-year, $100 million range.
With the Islanders almost $9 million from the cap floor, Snow is trying to make a splash and some are speculating that landing a superstar like Kovalchuk could part of a grander plan to help the franchise finalize the stalled Lighthouse Project.
Chris Botta believes this isn't just a PR ploy and that Snow and Islanders owner Charles Wang know better than to tug on the heartstrings of the fan base. Snow told Newsday's Katie Strang (sub. required) that he made a preliminary call Friday night to Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, to discuss salary and term, but according to what a source told Botta, the Islanders entered the discussions as soon as NHL free agency opened on Thursday.
Snow played down the reports as he told to Strang:
"I have to do my due diligence and look at all the options, it's as simple as that," Snow said when reached by phone late Friday. "Over the last couple of days I've made maybe a hundred calls and explored options where, maybe it doesn't come to fruition, but I'm not doing my job if I don't make those calls."
Due diligence or not, the idea of the Islanders confirming their interest in Kovalchuk benefits both sides here.
For Kovalchuk, one more party involved in the negotiations does nothing but help his cause. If he's looking for max money and a long-term deal, well, it appears there's one suitor that has no problem putting that offer in stone and isn't located in the KHL.
For the Islanders, this is a call to the other free agents (and their fans) on the market that they're serious about winning. They obviously have the cap room and the need to spend money, so why not land the big fish in the pond and watch the rest of the school change direction and possibly follow?
Plus, if they end up with him, they'll have a big-ticket, offensive Russian superstar who may just resurrect the franchise. And maybe they won't eventually have to buy this one out after he flops.