NHL Free Agency 2012: Ilya Kovalchuk's Contract Starting to Look Like a Steal

Peter MillsContributor IIIJuly 6, 2012

I know they didn't sign him from the Thrashers, I just love those blue jerseys.
I know they didn't sign him from the Thrashers, I just love those blue jerseys.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This past Wednesday, the Minnesota Wild came out of nowhere to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98-million deals, according to NHL.com. The two Americans were considered the best available free agents, so one team being able to nab both has huge implications for the future of the league.

The uproar that came with the dual-signings were almost distracting enough to not pay attention to the contracts. Once things calmed down, though, it began to sink in that the Wild had just thrown two more decade-plus-long contracts on the ever-increasing pile.

Super long-term contracts have been in play since Rick DiPietro's infamous debacle. Each year, more seem to spring up. This year, things have reached a fever pitch: Jordan Staal and Jonathan Quick each signed decade-long extensions prior to Parise's and Suter's. 

As a Devils fan, seeing Zach Parise signed away to an uber long-term deal, I reflected back a bit on the summer of 2010, when Ilya Kovalchuk had just been signed to a 15-year, $100-million deal, and it just seemed ridiculous.

An initial 17-year plan was rejected, and the Devils were fined for it (in one of the most bogus rulings in sports), but the deal that was finalized meant that Kovalchuk would be a Devil in to 2025.

When the news of that broke, I was quite mad. I thought that the contract would make it extremely difficult for the Devils to re-sign Parise the following season and that Kovy hadn't really shown he was worth the money.

Now I'm not saying Kovy has proven that, yet. But in the two years since signing, he's shown more than a few flashes of brilliance. At times, he plays as well offensively as the 52-goal Atlanta Thrasher used to. At the other end, he learned how to actually play defense and has become an above-average defensive forward.

All of that comes with a cap hit of just $6.67 million, not even high enough to be among this coming season's 25 highest. That's pretty good for a guy who finished this past season sixth in goals and fifth in points.

I bring up his cap hit because those of Parise and Suter are noticeably higher, tied for seventh in the league each with a $7.538-million hit. That's not including the $25 million each will receive in signing bonuses over the next three years—Kovalchuk's contract didn't come with a signing bonus.

Something scary is going on in the league right now, as salaries seem to be skyrocketing at an alarming pace. It's seen most clearly in Suter's contract.

While Parise may be considered an elite forward, there are few-to-no people who consider Suter a top-tier defender. He's very good, yes, but he's most certainly behind Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara or, after this past season, Erik Karlsson. So how exactly does Suter wind up with a league-maximum $12-million salary each of the next two seasons?

I can't answer that. It makes absolutely no sense to me, and I don't see why a defender with a career-high of seven goals should make $60-million over the next three years. However, with talent apparently being evaluated as it is these days, it makes me very thankful for one thing: that Kovalchuk isn't a free agent now.

If he was, a few things would be different. First off, it wouldn't be surprising if he got 13-15 years. As a matter of fact, it would almost be expected. But as an elite goal-scorer, Kovy would also have been entitled to a cap hit of more than $8 million and signing bonuses to boot. 

I'm not saying I like Kovy's contract any more now. I've grown to love the player, but 15 years is a long time. That being said, I'm glad it means we won't have to negotiate with him any time soon. He's a talent worth keeping, but not a talent worth breaking the team over.

And I don't mean to say that Suter's and Parise's contracts are bad either. Personally, I think Parise is appropriately valued and Suter is severely overvalued. However, that may have been the cost of getting both. But if the pair of contracts is any indication, expect every year's top free agents to sign long-term deals for outrageous amounts, regardless of whether they deserve it or not.

It could mean some teams can build some pretty impressive clubs, but it also could affect the league in any number of unforeseen ways. Unfortunately, that just appears to be what it's come to.

All information not otherwise-sourced was obtained via Capgeek.com.