The Ilya Kovalchuk Problem: Should LA Kings Pursue Prized Free Agent?

Reed KaufmanCorrespondent IJune 18, 2010

Any sports fan would want his or her team to acquire a player considered to be among the best in the league. That is a given.

The only means of acquisition are through the entry draft, a trade with another franchise, or free agency.

The obvious preference for acquisition is the entry draft, because the initial costs to the team for doing so are zero.

Sure, the argument could be made that team scouts are paid to make informed decisions on who to draft, and thus are the costs of the draft picks. The entertainment business would classify this as a below-the-line cost, in that no "talent" or important assets are deducted.

This is the opposite of acquisition through trade, in which some sort of asset(s) would be directly swapped for said player. These assets could be a rostered player, a prospect, a draft pick, or in some cases, cold hard cash. In most cases trades end up with pretty equal results for both teams. But in some cases (especially if Roberto Luongo is involved), the results are disastrously one-sided.

Free agency seems simple: Offer desired player a contract, and if he accepts, everyone is happy. But in the salary cap era of the NHL, these contracts are more highly scrutinized, publicized, and shape the future of the franchise more than ever before.

Even in the wake of the Blackhawks' impressive Cup victory, concerns are on the horizon for the future of the team due to large contracts committed to a number of players. The decision to sign Marian Hossa to a 12-year, $62 million contract was the correct one for the 2009-2010 season, but it could cause complications for the years to come.

According to a statement by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the salary cap situation, which was previously expected to decrease, will remain pretty static, or as he puts it, "I think we're going to be flat or maybe up a tad."

The 2009-2010 salary cap was $56.8 million.

Those who think that Los Angeles would be a good fit for Ilya Kovalchuk have reason to. The Kings have some cap room and are on the track to success. But in '09, all summer long, GM Dean Lombardi preached the concept of "the right fit."

I do not mean to knock Kovalchuk in any way; he is the most significant free agent the NHL has seen in the last decade. He will don a new jersey this fall, and he will flirt with 50 goals as long as he plays with a competent center.

He has never been accused of being a bad teammate or bad in the locker room, and his questionable career plus/minus can easily be refuted with the statistics of the Thrasher teams he has played for, combined with his time on the power play.

His contract will be one of the three heftiest contracts in the league. It will be at least five years and will straddle the $10 million/year line.

Though he is under contract for the upcoming season, it is important to note that Drew Doughty will be getting a new contract sometime this year. Some think it will be as early as July 1, the first day it's legal to do so.

I can tell you this much: It will be substantial, as it should be. The league hasn't seen a 20-year-old defenseman nominated for the Norris Trophy since Bobby Orr. Only if something goes horribly wrong will Doughty ever wear anything but a Kings jersey.

The Kings have the following salaries currently committed to players for next season:

Anze Kopitar $6.8 million
Ryan Smyth $6.25 million
Michal Handzus $4 million
Jarret Stoll $3.6 million
Justin Williams $3.5 million
Drew Doughty $3.475 million
Rob Scuderi $3.4 million
Dustin Brown $3.175 million
Matt Greene $2.95 million
Jonathan Quick $1.8 million
Jack Johnson $1.425 million
Scott Parse $900,000
Kyle Clifford $900,000
Marc-Andre Cliche $900,000
Jonathan Bernier $843,333
Wayne Simmonds $821,666
Erik Ersberg $750,000
Davis Drewiske $616,667
Peter Harrold $583,333
Kevin Westgarth $525,000

That's 20 players at just over $47 million, and of those 20, the players who were on the big club's roster at the end of the season are comprised of nine forwards, four defensemen, and one goalie. That means there are nine positions to fill with under $10 million to do so.

Of course, there are capable candidates whom are already under contract in the system. The only player that is obviously ready for the NHL is Bernier, and look for a future article breaking down the options the Kings have at the goalie position for next season.

So clearly, saying that the Kings have the cap room is not quite that simple. Some significant salary would have to be dumped, and of those listed above, I'm not sure which one I'd want to move. The contracts are all pretty reasonable, and again, Doughty's will likely be at least twice what it currently stands after this season.

Though the financial situation is the main concern, there are other issues to address.

This type of metaphor is accidentally becoming the theme of Crowned Royal, but the Kovalchuk problem is much like that of dating. Everyone wants to woo the hottest girl, but oftentimes it is not worth the headaches that come with it. Sure, she'll look good on your arm and impress your friends, but with that may come demands for lavish gifts and constant attention.

Worse yet, when it counts most, she may not be there to support you. (see Heatley, Dany).

I, for one, am guilty of campaigning for Dean Lombardi to go after Heatley in 2009. This of course was before signing Ryan Smyth, who, as Dean promised, was the right fit. Now, with Kovalchuk available, who is an even more proven goal scorer and certainly less of a prima donna, I'm here to say the following:

Stay the course.

Oh Ilya. I would love to see him in a Kings jersey. I would rejoice upon hearing the news, I would bring a sign to the first game, and I would probably even buy said jersey.

But the only way this would be good for more than just next season is if it was for the right terms: Dean's terms. DL has never been one to back up the Brinks truck, and this type of conservative spending is one of the practices that have put the Kings in the favorable situation that they are in now.

If he can somehow talk Kovalchuk into accepting less money for a shorter duration than other teams will be offering him, it would be nothing short of magic. Though not of nearly the same magnitude, Dean performed a similar trick with Jack Johnson, whose $1.5 million/year contract was surprisingly low when it was announced, so perhaps anything is possible.

The reality of this is that it would be a miracle, and though the last miracle on ice did involve Russians on American soil, it took place at the other end of the country, and that is perhaps where Ilya will remain.

Maybe I am getting old, because even a year ago I can't imagine NOT doing anything in my power to go after the hot chick, regardless of the consequences. I guess with maturity comes the willingness to pass on an opportunity to take home a swimsuit model if it could jeopardize the future.

In Dean we trust.

This article was originally published on, a Los Angeles Kings blog, and can be found by clicking here.


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