July 08, 2010
The first week of Ilya Kovalchuk's(notes) unrestricted free agency ended with the Los Angeles Kings claiming they're out for the second time in the negotiation and New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello issuing his 50th variation of "I got nuthin'" to the pestering press.
As we're now in Week 2, things are starting to get ... theoretical.
First, it's clear from all reports that the Devils aren't dropping out of this thing until Kovalchuk stays or goes. Which stinks, because the sadist in me would love to see all NHL suitors drop out in an epic collusion ... save for the Atlanta Thrashers, leaving Kovalchuk to decide between the ATL, the KHL and sailing the Caribbean for a year until this all blows over.
Both Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger and Pierre LeBrun of ESPN reported today about why the talks have gone this long, and what the end game might be for Kovalchuk.
(Hint: It doesn't involve toying with the fragile emotions of millions of Clevelanders like some other free agents. We think.)
Here's Chere from the Star-Ledger, speaking to some NHL agents on background that explained several factors behind Kovalchuk's decision delay. Like for example, the fact he has two agents:
Grossman, Kovalchuk's North American agent, would like to see his client stay in the NHL. Yury Nikolaev, the Russian agent, would prefer to see Kovalchuk sign with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League. It is a high stakes pay day for the Kovalchuk representative that finalizes a deal.
Then there is the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. Kovalchuk wants to play for his country and there is no guarantee NHL players will be involved. If he is playing in the KHL, he will be certain of participating in the Olympics.
Then there's his family, his love for L.A., the fact that the Devils offer hasn't blown him away ... the usual.
LeBrun's Kovalchuk piece on ESPN brings up the talk that the cap could drop in the next CBA negotiation (George Malik's take is here), which could affect the way teams view a long-term, bit salary deal with Kovalchuk. Which is why some are looking to go shorter, according to LeBrun:
In the meantime, sources told ESPN.com on Thursday that other teams have called Grossman with one- and two-year offers, hoping to convince Kovalchuk to do a Marian Hossa(notes), a la Detroit in 2008-09. But a long-term deal is much more preferable since it would cover off part of the next CBA. You don't want to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2012 if a CBA hasn't been ironed out yet. Remember how quiet July 2004 was?
I'm not sure what the larger white flag of surrender for Kovalchuk would be: Allowing his demands and the marketplace to force him into a mercenary, one-year contract with a contender after battling so hard for a "lifetime" deal; or leaving for Russia and the paper bags of the KHL's tax-free millions, which are very much still on the table.
Still not buying that the Kings are out of this. Still buying that if Kamp Kovalchuk is willing to drop its price tag, it'll be for L.A. and not NJ.
Who knows what twists and turns Week 2 will bring us. Maybe even a Week 3!