Here's what we know so far:
- New Jersey claims to be very much alive in the Kovalchuk sweepstakes, despite having little cap room left. (I will look at those numbers momentarily.)
- Dean Lombardi has responded tersely to with lots of "no" "nothing's happening," "no comment," "not sure" if the Kings are still in the mix. Lombardi just told Hammond he was closing up shop for the night (not that he used these words).
- There has been not one word or even rumor from anyone about anyone outside of the Devils and Kings being "in play" for Kovalchuk.
- Many teams ate up most or all of their cap room today, reducing the possible homes for IK. (I will walk through the possible NHL suitors.)
Here's how I interpret the events of today:
- Since the Kings admit to being involved in the Kovalchuk "bidding," I'm going to go out on a limb and declare that Lombardi has a number in mind (and I've said this a million times), beyond which he will not go. The range of that upper limit, it's safe to say, is somewhere between $7MM and $8MM. Not less than $7MM because, frankly, Kovalchuk is not going to sign for less than Kopitar. Not more than $8MM because I've looked at the cap figures of 2011-12, and beyond $8MM the Kings start creating trouble for themselves two, three, four seasons down the road. I mean, Chicago kind of trouble.
- Since Kovalchuk has not signed with the Kings today, or anyone else, it stands to reason that Kovalchuk's number and Lombardi's are not close. If Kovalchuk's agent came in asking for $9MM and Lombardi offered $6MM, we would have a deal now, having met in the middle somewhere. If it were just a matter of cap hit, Lombardi could have extended the term to bring the cap hit down into a manageble range. The fact that no deal was struck, not with the Kings or the Devils (or anyone else), tells me that Kovalchuk is either sticking to a firm, non-negotiable number or is starting way too high, or both.
- I do not think, for example, that Kovalchuk's agent took the tack of "Look, the KHL is offering $12MM tax free, but Ilya wants to play in the best league in the world and he doesn't need $12MM. He wants to play for a team that's going to contend for the cup for the next decade and he wants to be a part of it. Therefore, we're looking at a deal in the neighborhood of $9MM." I do not think he said anything like this, because if that were the general neighborhood, Lombardi would have come back with the actual numbers. "We can't sign IK at $9MM because then look what happens when we have to re-sign so-and-so. The team that IK wanted to play for would be dismantled before it ever won anything."
- No, I think it's pretty obvious that Kovalchuk has a firm number in the neighborhood of $9-11MM. Since Lombardi knows the Devils' management team pretty well (Lou is his mentor), I think Lombardi knows that neither one of them will pay $10MM for ten years for IK. (I'm pretty sure I think this. But...anything is possible.)
- So I think Kovalchuk's whole position amounts to, the KHL is offering x, and we're not staying here for less than y. Y being a number that doesn't work.
- Otherwise, there would be a deal already.
- I think it's a game of chicken. Kovalchuk says, pay this or I go to the KHL. Lombardi says, be my guest. And waits. And hopes New Jersey does the same. As they appear to have. So far. Three-way chicken.
- So now, with a night to sleep on it, the parties get to re-evaluate their positions. But what does that mean? It means, does Lombardi come off his number? Or does Kovalchuk? I don't get the feeling that Lombardi likes being ultimatumed. (I know that's not a word.) Rob Blake's $4MM non-negotiable take-it-or-leave-it offer of two years ago comes immediately to mind. Kovalchuk, for his part, probably knows whether he's really willing to go back to that ramshackle league that will likely go bankrupt long before it ever pays Kokvalchuk all his money. And the wild card is, of course, a third party swooping in and making an offer that Kovalchuk just takes because he doesn't like having his bluff called.
- Oh, and: I no longer buy even one single tiny bit of the "Kovalchuk doesn't care about money, he wants to win" propaganda. If Kovalchuk wants to win, he makes a list of the teams he thinks fit that description and his agent calls all of them today and says, Ilya wants to see if you can fit him into your plans. PIT, WAS, CHI, DET, NJD, LAK, SJS, VAN, maybe some others. He has them in order and he sees what they come back with. Nothing in the way teams were dealing today tells me that those teams are making any kind of provisional room for Kovalchuk. We've heard nothing of the sort.
- Before today, my attitude was, Kovalchuk wants to play for a contender, until proven otherwise. Now it's, Kovalchuk is about the money, until proven otherwise. Because, if not, he would already have a deal.
- Also-also: I do not think this is a situation of Lombardi low-balling Kovalchuk, or being afraid to pony up. Why? Because if Lombardi had offered, say, $5.5MM over 10 years (Hossa-ish), Kovalchuk would have passed and Lombardi would have moved on, and he wouldn't bother with "no comment" and "I'm not sure" if the Kings are in the mix. There would be no point. In fact, what would stop him from saying, flat-out, not interested? The fact that he has said nothing tells me that the negotiation is still open, although that doesn't mean they're not stuck in the mud with $3MM separating them.
- As more teams eat up their cap space, Kovalchuk's options shrink. Another reason I think we're dealing with the KHL here. It doesn't serve his purpose to wait, otherwise.
Now, I am not exactly gung-ho about the King Kovalchuk version of the future. But for the sake of argument, I'm going to pretend I am. I want to look at the other clubs, to see who is really viable. I've been running the Kovalchuk cap charts for a week or so now. This time, I'm going to take a different approach. I'm going to pretend I'm club x, and pretend I really gotta have Kovy, and see what I have to do to make it possible. First up:
New Jersey Devils
They've got $4MM in cap space with 18 players signed, which means they've got 2-5 players left to sign. They need to sign three forwards and a defenseman, basically. I would note that four cheap players at $700K each is $3.6MM, which would leave them with $400K in cap space remaining. Doesn't sound like enough for Kovy. But let's dig deeper.
Subtract one of those forwards (since we're replacing him with IK). That's $1.1MM for Kovy. Now, there's a bonus cushion of $240K. Let's spend it! And during the summer, the cap is temporarily raised by 10%. $5.94MM. Let's blow that too!
That's $7.28MM. Is that enough to snag Kovy? As a cap-hit, I have to say, yes it is. So New Jersey could make a ten year / $72MM offer and that miiiiight look good enough to Kovy.
Lombardi can and I believe would top that offer in a heartbeat. $7.5-$8MM is self-evidently a perfectly fair price for Kovalchuk and there is simply no way that Lombardi or AEG would have any problem paying that.
And New Jersey would have to bend over backwards to make an offer as high as $7.28MM. They would have all summer to dump basically $7MM worth of contracts for no salary back, with everyone in the league knowing they have to do it. Does Lou want to put himself in that position? I'm going to say no.
So that means we have nothing to fear from New Jersey. Unless they start moving salary tomorrow. Then watch out. The same can be said about:
Detroit, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, the Rangers, San Jose and Ottawa
To varying degrees, if they want to spend the whole summer making bad trades of millionaires for picks and prospects, they could just barely sort of maybe do it. Okay, so let's just say that the Rangers are the only ones crazy enough to try it.
Sather has $6.4MM in cap space, $1MM in bonus cushion and the $5.9MM summer overage he can spend. So he can take a swing at Kovy. Maybe he offers $10MM and then has to dump approximately $3MM in contracts. Maybe a little more, unless he's willing to have an active roster of 20.
But what the hell. We're dealing with crazy people here. So Sather could do it. And would Lombardi have any interest in beating a Sather franchise-killing deal? No, of course not. So, if you're a Kings fan and you desperately want Kovy, I think it's reasonable to be "afraid" of the Rangers.
Though really it would be f***ing hilarious. Who else? Well, you can't rule out
The Isles, Blues, Thrashers, Avs, Ducks, Yotes and Sabres
Any one of those teams has the cap space to make an offer that Lombardi simply would not want to match. Presumably, he's not going to go back to Atlanta after all this. The Avs have said they're not in the running. I can see the Isles making a crazy offer and I can almost see Kovalchuk going for it. It's kinda New York and they're not really a contender but if you squint there's a lot of talent there, etc., etc.. I think that's a long shot, though. They're all long shots. And frankly the only one I care about at all is
The Ducks have basically a full roster right now, around $15MM in cap space and a Bobby Ryan problem. What if they decide to throw $9MM at Kovy? They would then probably have to trade Ryan's rights, or else sign him and dump someone else. The Ducks are pretty thin though and signing IK wouldn't help matters. He could score a million goals and they would still lose most of their games, probably. Would Kovalchuk not care, if the money were right and he were allowed to do whatever the hell he wants on the ice?
I can kind of see it.
But, you know, if Kovalchuk went to the Ducks, and the Ducks were to send us Bobby Ryan for picks or for a little salary back (because they couldn't take on too much), I would be okay with that.
And I can see the Ducks going for Kovy just to screw Ryan, since he's not playing ball. Or something.
What have I learned by doing this?
I'm not afraid of New Jersey. I might be afraid of the Ducks. If it's the Rangers, I will just crack up. And if he goes to the KHL, it was never going to happen here anyway. Oh, and the part about not believing Kovy's happy nonsense about just wanting to win.