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Decision Day for Ilya Kovalchuk?

Hey, have you heard that Ilya Kovalchuk is still a free agent?

It's day 14 of the free agent process that has been called Kovygate, Kovy-Sweepstakes and many other things.

Ilya Kovalchuk, 27 is probably the best UFA to hit the market since the lockout and was expected to be quickly snatched up a team once he tested the free agency waters. Well, that hasn't happened yet and with no word from Lou Lamoriello -other than "everything is the same"- every day he is out there unsigned has left many Devils fans anxious for news -one way or the other -on his status. It seems every other fanpost, fanshot or other news has either been Kovalchuk focused or been turned one via the comments section. After news last night that Kovalchuk and his agent Jay Grossman have left Los Angeles without a deal, today could be the day that a decision is finally made.  Per Tom Gulitti's early morning post (3AM?) there still seems to be a mutual interest between the Los Angeles Kings and Kovalchuk he also speculates that playing for the Devils is not his first choice.

Whatever the outcome, I know that his status has caused many fans to provide strong opinions of their own (Puck Daddy even calling it a fan hostage crisis) which, when coupled with the numerous 'reports from unidentified sources' has led to a lot of misinformation.  So I felt I should go through some of the rumors out there and determine whether they are fact or fiction.  After the jump, I will touch upon some of the issues out there, and speculate a little on my own.  Also, let's use this post as today's Free Agency Frenzy thread, so feel free to sound off about all things Kovalchuk and any other unrestricted or restricted free agent news out there.

Per John, remember: Please link to any news, do not just say it's on a site or Twitter. Link to the actual story. Standard rules apply, please also pay attention to actual sources, not random comments or untrustworthy places like HockeyBuzz.

Ilya Kovalchuk wants a 10 year/$100MM contract: Right now, fact. At this point, besides the unconfirmed report saying the Islanders were interested in Kovalchuk this has never publically been stated. That said, we all know-via Don Waddell-that he turned down two huge deals earlier in the year when he was still on the Atlanta Thrashers.   Helene Elliot of the LA Times has been on this story from the Los Angeles Kings perspective from the start and posted details of the contract negotiations here.  Apparently to play for the Kings (think about that for a second) he is unwilling to budge on the money he wants.

If Kovalchuk doesn't sign with the Devils he only cares about money, is greedy and he doesn't really care about winning. Right now, Fiction.  This has been the popular fan opinion in the Fire & Ice comment section of every new post, a number of posts/comments here at In Lou We Trust and other spots on the internet.  All a potential choice between the Kings and the Devils indicates is that he only has been (or was in the case of the Kings) talking to teams with potential to make a run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If he signs a huge deal with the KHL or an NHL club that is unlikely to compete for a cup in the near future, then a case could be made that he is chasing the money. 

Kovalchuk should have made a decision already.  Fiction.  I understand that sports fans are impatient, but why do we expect a person to make one of the biggest decisions in his life within a day or even a week!  To me,  the amazing part of the free agency frenzy in any sport is how quickly these decisions are made.

The Devils have a 17 year/$100MM offer currently on the table to Kovalchuk. Likely Fiction. For the moment that is the current rumor that is out there, speculated on by the NY Post and 'confirmed' by Larry Brooks. Gulitti's post last night says that he hears that there is nothing close to a 17 year offer.   Lou Lamoriello likes to be creative with the salary cap, but a 17 year deal doesn't seem like something he would do. Why stop at 17, why not 20 to make the cap hit an even $5MM a year? While Marian Hossa got a 12 year deal, creating precedent in a contract of this type, this rumor seems unbelievable right now.   If this is true I can't wait to see if Capgeek shows the Devils cap situation in 2026-2027.   

Jay Grossman has lost Kovalchuk a lot of money with his negotiating tactics. Fiction. If Kovalchuk and Grossman were only looking for money and not a winner, he would have signed with Atlanta. I have a hard time believing that Puck Agency didn't analyze the market and realize that there were not going to be many suitors for a big UFA signing this year. The Kings were long rumored to be in the running for Kovalchuk, but when analyzing their salary cap situation it's obvious they couldn't pay Kovalchuk a similar amount to what the Thrashers offered.  Very few teams, because of internal cap constraints could pay him what Atlanta offered him. Quisp of Jewels From The Crown analyzed this early on here and I would like to think Grossman did this as well.

The Tweet Grossman sent out last Monday gave the impression that Kovy's decision was imminent. Fact. While his wording can be taken to mean a few different things, it seemed clear that Kovalchuk's free agency decision had been made last Monday, July 5th. It was later speculated that Grossman made those statements to drive up other offers, but it could also be that Kovalchuk got cold feet and reversed his decision. 

Kovalchuk re-signing with the Devils will impact the re-signing of Zach Parise. Fact.  In a recent post by Gulitti he speculates on the impact of a Kovalchuk signing on the team's salary cap for next year (and for a great analysis of this year's cap situation should Kovalchuk re-sign check out this FanPost by FrankG929) and reports that there might not be enough money to re-sign Parise to a long-term extension.   Lamoriello has stated that all the negotiations with Kovalchuk have been conducted with a player of Parise's stature in mind.  While Kovalchuk would be a great player to have, it should NOT be at the cost of re-signing Parise.   That said, it would be nice to know that Parise plans to commit to the Devils long term as well.   

Kovalchuk would like to play for the Devils.  Fact.  If we are to believe his statements after the season, he was impressed by the organization and the fact that the Devils are still in the running shows that he would play in New Jersey.

Kovalchuk would like to play for the Kings.  Fact. If he has entertained them as possible destinations as many times as he has it seems to be a good bet that he would like to play there.

Yes, he can consider two places at one time and weigh them out differently with whatever pro/con list he is using.  (As an aside, I would pull "the LeBron" and choose a team in a state with no state income tax, but that's me)  Each team offers different benefits and detrements.  While Helene Elliot speculates that if he goes to the Devils he is looking for the money (never thought I would read that before) and that the Kings are in a better position to win a Stanley Cup, I would respectfully disagree.  If Kovalchuk is looking for a team with a history of organizational success then the Devils are the clear choice.  Since 1993-1994 the Kings have won a total of 12 playoff games, and have only visited the playoffs once in the last 7 seasons.  They have a lot of young talented stars, but that does not always equal success.

Granted, I did my own bit of speculation above, but most of it seems logical.   After the latest falling out with the Kings,  New Jersey will be rumored to be the leading contender to land him but what are the likely issues that may be holding up a deal?

Money-Discussed above, the salary cap limits the money Kovalchuk can earn per year and teams can only dedicate so much to one player.  Especially one that hasn't been past the first round of the playoffs.

Term-Kovalchuk really has three options.  1.  One year deal, with a contender preferably, so that he can make a cup run (like Marian Hossa) and try the market again next year.  2.  Short term deal that allows him to re-enter the free agent market either before or after the current collective bargaining agreement passes. 3. Long term deal that allows him to get the money he wants but also locks him up for what is likely the rest of his career.

That said, if I got to be in Jay Grossman's shoes for a day, I think I would want a 6-7 year deal for at least $50MM. That would take Kovalchuk to around 34 years of age which would give him one more payday with a 4/5 year contract that could be front loaded.  That way a the team could buy him out at a cheap price or not incur any penalty should he retire. If there would be no suitable offers in the NHL he would still attract big money overseas in the KHL or a European Elite league provided that no drastic erosion in skills or a career threatening injury takes place.

Collective Bargaining Agreement-I am sure Grossman, like many other agents, is looking at a possible work stoppage to see how that may affect his client and doing whatever he can (like a good agent should) to ensure that his client doesn't lose a significant amount of money should there be a lockout.  Why the concern? What if a new CBA allowed for special buyout provisions to nullify a deal? 

Regardless of what you think about the Devils re-signing Kovalchuk, you can't argue the fact that this has been a fun offseason. I have personally wasted so much time on Capgeek with all the possible salary options, my head is spinning.

So since the Kings and Kovalchuk are now at a standstill, I would expect a decision to be made soon, so sound off below!  Do you think Kovalchuk should go short term and test the market again in a few years?  Do you think Jay Grossman has represented his client correctly?  Will the Kings give it another shot at Kovalchuk,  thereby making Helene Elliot one of the most followed Twitter accounts in the hockey world?