Ilya Kovalchuk exploring KHL options as decision on Devils lingers - Puck Daddy - NHL - Yahoo! Sports
[A] difficult decision for the free-agent winger could come in the next 24-48 hours. Sources close to Kovalchuk have told us that if the NHL does not approve any of the proposals submitted informally by the Devils, Kovalchuk may decide to play in the KHL next season.

My first reaction to this is, don't let the door hit you on the way out. My second reaction: interesting that there isn't even a second NHL club to play this off of. The fact that the KHL is the threat he's using tells me that Kovalchuk is not compromising, New Jersey can't do 13 years/$102MM (cap hit $7.85MM) and the league won't let Lamoriello push it beyond 15. So, no deal. Kovalchuk threatening to go to the KHL isn't going to suddenly make the league cry uncle. As I said in an earlier post, I think Lou can do Kovalchuk money if he spreads it out over 15, but not over 13. The only thing that's going to make this deal happen in New Jersey is Kovalchuk coming down in his price by about $10MM. And frankly if he were willing to do that he would have had a deal six weeks ago.

The other thing this tells me is that Kovalchuk or Grossman seem to think the league is the problem here. That's predictable, I guess. But how about we look at this like rational human beings:

  • Kovalchuk wants something approximating $100MM over ten years. Maybe he wants to get more than Ovechkin. Maybe he just likes the number. Who knows. But he wants it. He's entitled to want it, and to ask for it, and to refuse to play if he doesn't get it.
  • Very few (if any) people actually think that Kovalchuk is worth more than Alexander Ovechkin, to say nothing of Sidney Crosby, or Evgeni Malkin, or Marian Hossa, or Jonathan Toews, or name your own favorite. Kovalchuk and Grossman appear to have talked themselves into believing it -- the biggest free-agent ever to hit the market in his prime, etc. -- but just as many people note that he doesn't play defense, has no track record of playoff success, or even of international success, and has spent most of his career toiling in the land of meaningless games played for a non-playoff team.
  • Any team in the NHL that has the cap room can agree to pay him what he's asking. They could do it like the Ovechkin deal, and just have the cap hit and salary be the same over the course of the deal. $10MM a year for ten years.
  • Nobody is willing to do that.
  • Seriously. Think about how weird that is. It's not like Kovalchuk is an RFA hold-out (e.g. Bobby Ryan). Kovalchuk is holding out and he's free to do whatever he wants. He's holding out against no-one. Which means basically, he's holding out against reality, trying to force reality to cave. Who acts like this? (I mean, besides my six year old.)
  • We've all seen -- a million times -- players hold out against the current team, because their current team won't pay them what they know they can get from other (better, more desirable) teams. Who in his right mind holds out against everyone when no-one wants to pay him what he's asking for?
  • Before you say, "but New Jersey wants to do it; the big mean league won't let those crazy kids get married!" -- no, because what he's asking for is $10MM a year for ten years. No one wants that cap hit. The rest of it is about making the cap hit palatable, and Kovalchuk's interest in that is less than zero.
  • The only way any interested parties can afford a non-compromising Kovalchuk is if the contract goes for longer than 10 years, to bring the cap hit down.
  • The league has, according to various reports, drawn the line more or less at 13 years for this deal. Any deal with Kovalchuk over the age of forty will not fly. (Although I bet you the league would agree to a 15 year deal if the salary was level over the course of the contract. But who am I kidding; Kovalchuk wouldn't agree to such a thing, since the last contract demonstrated pretty persuasively that he doesn't expect to be playing much beyond 37.)
  • So, what it comes down to is, Kovalchuk wants to get paid $100MM, and no one can afford it. "It" being the cap hit.
  • Either Lamoriello takes on an extra $2MM in cap hit (thus dumping two millionaire contracts instead of one, and next year having to pay Parise that much more, and maybe having to lose another body in the balance), or Kovalchuk takes less money...say, $8MM a year for 10 years and then 4, 4, 3 for the last three (that would be a $7MM cap hit).
  • If Kovalchuk wants to play in New Jersey, that's what it's going to take. It's only money, right? The league isn't going to suddenly say, okay fine, just kidding, go ahead, you can have your fifteen years.
  • Do I think Kovalchuk will agree to $8MM over ten years (followed by a tail)? No. At least not before he agrees to a one year $10MM deal somewhere, or decides to play in Russia.

Report: Kovalchuk sets deadline to be signed or else KHL option becomes real - ProHockeyTalk - Hockey - NBC Sports
This just about fries it for me as far as how things go for the NHL on this matter. We outlined what was going on with this nonsense the last two days when word came out both about the NHL pooh-poohing more contract framework and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman tap-dancing around questions about that happening. The point now is that the league has left Lou Lamoriello, Jay Grossman and Ilya Kovalchuk wandering around aimlessly trying to lock down a deal that works for everyone without having a blueprint to follow.

They're not walking around aimlessly. Their aim is to get a contract that's longer than 13 years, so that Lamoriello can afford it. I said a month ago that they would almost certainly be safe with a 13 year term, and lo and behold, the league has apparently said exactly that. It's not aimless at all. They just want something they are being prevented from getting.

Sure they could try to model things after Vincent Lecavalier's 11-year contract, but who's to say that 11 years is going to be too long to appease Commissioner Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly?

I think pretty much everyone knows that 11 years would be just fine with the league. (And if they don't know, all they have to do is ask. That's what these meetings have been about. Asking first.) Doesn't matter though: Lamoriello can't afford an 11 year deal unless Kovalchuk is willing to drop his price by about $25MM.

The NHL prides itself on being the home to the greatest hockey talent in the world and while the KHL pales in comparison both in talent level and in league stability, it remains the main option for anyone looking to continue playing professionally that can't get a job in the NHL.

Kovalchuk can get a job in the NHL. But why should he be paid a salary that basically no one thinks he's worth?

Losing a star like Kovalchuk to the KHL over a squabble like this one, seemingly made to prove a point to other teams as well as agents and the NHLPA is insanity at its highest. With Kovalchuk setting this deadline to get a deal done, he's making sure he at least has somewhere to play. The KHL season begins on September 8th.

Kovalchuk can play anywhere he wants. But he can't get paid any amount he wants. My favorite thing about his "deadline" is, he's the only one in a position to compromise, and he's not budging. He's negotiating with himself. And I frankly don't believe Lou Lamoriello really cares so much about Ilya Kovalchuk that he will do anything to get him, including dismantling his team while grossly over-paying for one unproven guy. The Devils were a very good team last year, and they have already made themselves better for this year. They don't need Kovalchuk; he was about zero help last year anyway.

And why exactly is it that the two teams who actually want him are not willing to pay more than $5.33-7MM a year for him? Could it possibly be that this is his actual value?