Through It All, Remember: Kovalchuk Is Not Ovechkin

Mike Miller@@mykeymillerContributor IIJanuary 28, 2010

The NHL trade deadline is looming. The list of potential shoppers and buyers is being debated. The list of players changing teams is being discussed. The one player garnering the most interest is Ilya Kovalchuk, the young Russian left winger who plays for the Atlanta Thrashers.

Reportedly, the Thrashers have been attempting unsuccessfully to sign the sniper to a long-term deal. Being unable to sign him has forced the Thrashers to start looking into moving him.

The one team that continues to come up when the name Kovalchuk surfaces is the Los Angeles Kings

The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2002. They haven’t had a big-name player on the team in quite some time. In their history, they have made it past the second round of the playoffs only once, and that was the same year they lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montreal Canadians. 

Currently, they are in a major rebuild, which is finally starting to bear fruit. The Kings are in the playoff hunt and very competitive for the first time since 2002. The current team seems to have much more upside and potential, as it is the second youngest in the NHL.

The Kings play in one of the most fickle markets in the country.  It is the second-largest TV market—but doesn’t possess an NFL team. They share a building with the current NBA Champion Lakers. LA is a market that loves its superstars—and loves winning. One, or both, will put butts in the seats, but only winning will keep them there.

A strong argument can be made for Kovalchuk being a good fit for the Kings. They are a talented team that seems to just about have it all, except for missing a couple of pieces.

It seems like a match made in heaven to an outsider, but is it?

Many teams are interested in Kovalchuk’s services on the ice. Is he worth what he’s reportedly asking for in terms of salary? Will the team that signs him get the return on their investment? What would be reasonable to expect as an organization in terms of return if a team signed Kovalchuk?

In the current economy, overpaying for a player doesn’t make a lot of sense unless that player is going to bring a return on the investment.

A player in any sport brings value to an organization in different ways.

  • They can bring it in terms of play and making the team better.
  • They bring it in terms of leadership in the locker room. 
  • They bring it in terms of fan perception. A superstar can bring fans in who were not fans before.

The five highest paid players in the NHL are Alexander Ovechkin at $9.5 million, Sidney Crosby at $8.7 million, Evgeni Malkin at $8.7 million, Eric Staal at $8.25 million, and Brad Richards at $7.8 million. 

With the exception of Ovechkin, all of these players had a recent hand in winning the Cup.

Every one of the players listed makes their team better on the ice. 

It seems that all the players bring leadership to their locker rooms that make their teams better.

All of the players listed are responsible for putting fans in seats that were not fans of hockey or their team prior.  There's a curiosity factor that comes into play.

Ovechkin is, well, Alexander Ovechkin. He is the face of the Washington Capitals and arguably the NHL as a whole. He’s explosive, dynamic, and almost transcends the sport of hockey. He has not won a Cup, but most believe it’s just a matter of time.

Crosby, Malkin, and Staal aren’t even in their primes yet, but have already won a Cup.  Richards is the only one on the list headed toward the downside of his career.

A strong argument can be made for Kovalchuk being included in the list above. He is one of the most skilled players in the NHL. He does, however, play for the Atlanta Thrashers. He is the best player on the Thrashers. His skill is truly world-class and will be on display with his fellow countrymen in Vancouver in a few weeks.

Let's go back two seasons.

In the 2007-2008 season, an already-stacked Pittsburgh Penguins team made a big trade at the deadline. They sent Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, and Angelo Esposito to the Atlanta Thrashers for Marrian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. Atlanta, much like with Kovalchuk, feared they would not be able to sign Hossa. They dealt him for what they could to get value instead of just letting him walk at the end of the season.

Hossa proved to be a good pickup for the Penguins by helping them make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings

Pittsburgh attempted to resign Hossa to a contract reportedly worth $7 million a year for three years. He left, however, and joined the Detroit Red Wings, citing a better chance to win a Cup and the flexibility of a shorter contract. When he left Pittsburgh they received nothing in return except the memories he helped create during their Cup run.

In Detroit, Hossa also fell short of winning a Cup, this time losing to his former team Pittsburgh. After failing to win a Cup with Detroit, Hossa went on to sign a large long-term contract to play with the Chicago Blackhawks this season. His contract is for 12 years and $62.8 million.   

Kovalchuk, like Hossa, seems to be unwilling or uninterested in staying in Atlanta. The reasons are different for each player. In the case of Kovalchuk, no one is totally sure whether his desire to leave Atlanta is about money, playing conditions, the team's competitiveness, his own legacy, or some combination. He has not gone public with anything.

Ilya seems to be have a lot in common with Marian Hossa. He has lots of flash and lots of skill.  It’s hard to tell whether he wants to win Cups or simply line his pockets with money.

Kovalchuk is truly a world-class player with world-class ability. It’s too early to tell where Kovalchuk will land.

Will Kovalchuk make the team he joins better on the ice? He can score goals, and from that standpoint he will make any team he joins better.

Will he bring leadership into the locker room? Tough to say. He’s the guy in Atlanta. Any team he joins will likely already have an established leader.

Will he make the leadership group of the team better? Also, tough to say. It might do just the opposite and ruin what chemistry is there, based on the money he’s getting paid.

Will Kovalchuk put fans in seats? For a little while, he will. It will depend upon the market he goes to. More then likely, there will be a curiosity with watching him play, but ultimately it will be about how the team performs with him. 

Kovalchuk is unlikely to secure a lot of local endorsement deals for any team he plays for, as his overall marketability is limited. 

What would it take to land Kovalchuck? 

Reportedly, Atlanta is asking for a number of things in order to secure the sniper’s services, including a few current roster players, a prospect, and a future draft pick. It’s been said that Atlanta will not allow the team to negotiate a contract extension to secure Kovalchuck beyond this season, effectively making him a rental player.

If a team can negotiate a better deal to land Kovalchuck and negotiate a contract extension, is he worth it to them?

Ilya’s camp has set the asking price on a contract, said to be in the ten-million-a-year range. He also supposedly is after a ten-year contract. By NHL standards, that contract is gynormous. 

Ultimately, should the Kings or other teams go after Kovalchuk?

Talent like his doesn’t grow on trees.   

As good as he Ilya is, though, one player will not put the Kings over the top. As a rental player, in certain situations, it might work of another team.

What will become of Kovalchuk? 

Some team will give the Thrashers something for him. Will it be a lot? Time will tell.

Will Kovalchuk be successful in his new home? Time will tell.

What should be expected of Kovalchuk from his new team? Time will tell. 

There’s one thing to remember about this, though: Kovi is not Ovi.


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