Chapter IX: In Which I Vacillate Wildly Re Kovalchuk
An interesting point/counter-point on the value of Kovalchuk. First, a pro-IK piece from Yahoo Sports (Inside Kovalchuk's value, where he will sign as free-agent star - Puck Daddy - NHL - Yahoo! Sports), and then the con-IK rebuttal from NBC blogs (Ilya Kovalchuk isn't worthy of a big raise - ProHockeyTalk - Hockey - NBC Sports). Both are worth reading, and if you take the average of the two, you end up with my opinion, which might be summed up as:
Kovalchuk is a huge talent and a true sniper the likes of which we are not likely to see in free agency any time soon, who may or may not be a team player, and who is willing and able to play a defensive system, unless he isn't, and who is driven, and/or unable, to succeed in the playoffs -- all of which will make him ultimately worth it no matter how much he is paid, until later on, at which point whoever signs him will live to regret it.
[Rudy? A little help here]
All I know is, I can only make sense of signing Kovalchuk if his deal is in the neighborhood of $70MM/10 years range. Cap hit of $7MM, structured so that he's the richest player in the NHL for a couple of seasons, and tapering it off down to peanuts in the last years. Something like: 11, 11, 10, 10, 8, 7, 6, 4, 2, 1. Highest paid player in the league for two years, then tapering down to a respectible $8MM after five seasons, and then becomes a relative bargain in his declining years. He gets a cap hit higher than Kopitar, which makes him the biggest cap hit on the team (until the Doughty contract, anyway).
Generally, I think people think a cap hit of $7MM for IK is a pipe dream. I'm not so sure. I think it makes sense. And if Kovalchuk really wants to be on a team that's built to win for the foreseeable future (as opposed to the Rangers or Leafs, to pick two names), he'll take that deal over $100MM/10 years from Sather or Burke or whoever.
I doubt Lombardi would offer more than what I just outlined (maybe as high as $8MM? I don't know. I'm not privvy to the fly-on-the-wall stuff, so i can't judge). I can't really think of a better team for Kovalchuk to want to come to, if he's as interested in winning as he says he is. Would he really rather be in St. Louis, or Vancouver?