Yeah, Well, I Don't Think There ARE Any Offers - How 'Bout That?

At least not any good ones, or offers that Kovalchuk and/or Grossman find acceptable.

Here's what I think has happened:

  • Kovalchuk had it in his mind that he was going to test free agency. He knows -- and his agent has probably reminded him -- that he has more goals than any other NHL player since 2003, or whatever the stat is. Also, that most of his peers are tied up in contracts, so the appearance of a player of his caliber on the UFA market is a rarity. (Never mind that Hossa was a UFA last year and his cap hit is $5MM+; Grossman probably left that part out.) He probably also has heard that Los Angeles is desperate to sign him.
  • It's also possible that he has a little competition going with Ovechkin, who has a cap hit of $9.5MM. This is total speculation, so feel free to ignore.
  • Kovalchuk has told Lamoriello that he is going to test free agency rather than sign with the Devils before 7/1.
  • July 1 arrives. Grossman gets however many calls he gets. He gets serious interest from the Kings and the Devils.
  • Because both Lombardi and Lamoriello are not idiots, they know not to compete against each other. They also know each other well. Neither wants to over-spend. Lombardi actually can't, because, despite the conventional wisdom in the press, most of his considerable cap space will disappear next year when it's time for new contracts for Doughty, Johnson, Simmonds, Bernier and Moller.
  • Both the Devils and the Kings make offers. The Kings make multiple offers. The Devils, maybe one, maybe more. But they are all within the same range (it was reported somewhere, and I can't find it now but I will, that "all the NHL offers were similar" -- and I believe it). I believe that range to be a cap hit between $6.5MM and $8.5MM, with longish to mega term, and dollar value in the area of $75MM.
  • A couple of days go by. Lombardi makes several offers. None are accepted. Lombardi now knows what's going on. Kovalchuk/Grossman are shopping one GM's deal to the other, trying to get them into a bidding war. Lombardi hates bidding wars and has publicly said he will not engage in one. But just the appearance of two teams in play and no deal yet gives the impression that bidding is going on.
  • So Lombardi pulls out. We're done. That's it. This is Lombardi sending up a flare. It tells everyone, there is no bidding war because I am not bidding. There will be no more offers. It doesn't take the Kings out of the running, because Grossman can always come back to the Kings and accept their offer, if it still stands (if Lombardi has not moved on). However, no one in the press, and no fellow GM, will get the idea that Lombardi is making new offers, and without new offers, no bidding war. Take that.
  • Grossman says, f*** you, in effect, by reasserting that there are two teams and Kovalchuk is choosing between them. But he doesn't say who the two teams are. Because he can't. Because one of them is the Kings and he doesn't want to provoke Lombardi into being even more blunt. He wants Lombardi to think that there is someone else, besides the Devils. If only there were some wacky loose-cannon GM or owner with tons of cap space and a -- WAIT A MINUTE!
  • Enter Charles Wang. Magically, the New York Islanders $100MM offer goes viral. Despite the fact that neither Snow nor Wang confirm the $100MM figure, they both admit they have had "conversations." I believe Wang called them "preliminary." My guess is, the figure came from the fact that various reporters (Helene Elliot) had reported (via Lombardi) that Kovalchuk was looking for $100MM over 10-12 years and Grossman used that to manipulate secret sources and/or leakers and/or reporters into thinking a not very interesting Islanders phone call was in fact a mega-offer a la Yashin. Of course, everyone thinks Wang is nuts, so this works like a charm.
  • Since Lamoriello has never withdrawn his offer, he can just stand pat. He says he's willing to make it work by dumping salary. This of course makes it sound like the Devils will pay somewhere in the neighborhood of what Kovalchuk wants. But the fact is, unless they're planning on paying him $4.5MM a year, they're going to have to dump salary at some point over the summer no matter what. The Devils are able to pay up to about $10MM cap hit, but they would have to dump $5.94MM in salary before the start of the season. That would of course be painful and Lamoriello wants to minimize pain.
  • Lamoriello also knows that Lombardi is not coming up in his price beyond a certain range (I put the limit at around $8MM, maybe it's lower). Versions of the Devils' and Kings' offers are leaked, probably by the Devils and the Kings, so now everyone knows what the market for Kovalchuk is. Lamoriello probably also knows that the Islanders offer was fabricated. A team may come out of the woodwork and make a Wangian offer, but both Lamoriello and Lombardi are playing poker. They know it's not possible to guarantee they will prevail; but they can maximize their chances of winning each hand.
  • Grossman repeatedly (and, with each passing day, pathetically) issues "Kovy is sleeping on it," "it's narrowed down to two teams," "we're finalizing the deal," "Kovy will decide by the end of the day" messages, all of which appear now (at least to me) to be smoke and mirrors. He wants to create the impression of multiple bidders and deals closing in the next several seconds. But Lamoriello and Lombardi both know there isn't anything to finalize really that you can't finalize in a couple of minutes on the phone, and in any case, you can't finalize a deal when there are multiple bidders; so neither GM is inspired to hop on the phone with an 11th hour $99MM bid.
  • The fact that now six days have passed with no deal tells me that I was right all along that there hasn't been a deal simply because there's no acceptable offer (acceptable in Kovy/Grossman land). They're not "working out the details." They're not "clearing cap space" (the Devils don't have to clear cap space now; they have all summer to do it if need be). There's nothing. Nothing acceptable to Kovalchuk/Grossman. Because otherwise, they would have accepted it.
  • So all they can do now is wait until a face-saving deal comes their way. Whether that's a KHL deal, a deal from left field, or a tweaked version of either the Devils' or Kings' offers, it's obviously impossible to know. But as time goes on, the smoke dissipates and eventually even the press will see Grossman with the big fan and the smoke machine and they'll call it what it is. Or, if Grossman is smart and/or lucky, he will wrap this up before people figure it out.