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Ilya Kovalchuk…. is NOT an Islander

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Nope, no he’s not. 

This makes some fans happy.  This makes some fans sad.  Either way, it’s like talking about global warming, or Pierre Mcguire.  The topic is polarizing, and people are waaaayyy too intense about it. 

….Okay, they’re allowed to be intense about the whole melting planet thing.  Let’s stick to talking puck.

For the Isles fans who’re excited that they’re not attempting to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a contract (no formal offer was ever made) because he wouldn’t be worth it down the road, or it sticks to the widely-consumed Koolaid of the rebuild , let me ask you a couple questions.  These questions, by the way, should give some insight into my stance on the team not pushing to land the Russian star (and no, they didn’t push).

Personally, I'm very excited about Okposo/Tavares this year.

First off, fans of the slow rebuild:  Let’s just say, hypothetically, the Islanders managed to keep together the core of kids they have (Okposo, Bailey, Tavares) for a dozen years, or whatever arbitrary length of time you want to use.  Do you think that, without adding a few more high-quality pieces, they make a Stanley Cup winning team? 

I think you’d agree that no, those kids aren’t good enough to become a premier team if you filled the roster in with average players (think Horton, Weiss and Booth in Florida).  Unless you DO think that core group could win a Cup on it’s own, in which case I’d say you drank WAY too much on the fourth.

So then you realize they’d need to add a few supporting pieces to get over the hump.  How long should they wait before they do that?  And why wait?  Isn’t it better for the team to grow together, and to get some post-season experience while they’re young?

I’m under the impression that some Islanders fans think that the missing puzzle pieces have been drafted and are in the minors, slowly working their way up to the day when all the picks pan out and make the team a Cup contender.  To certain people, our “get over the hump” players are already Islanders property, and are still maturing.

Headed back to New Jersey?

So, reality check time: You DO realize that every single team in the NHL has those kids too, right?  Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, those kids?  They’re wonderful players, and could be dynamite NHL contributors someday.  Probably will be.  But they exist, not just in Bridgeport, but in Grand Rapids, Albany, Hartford, Norfolk, Winnipeg and every other city that houses AHL and ECHL teams.  Having them isn’t some secret ace up our sleeves that’s gonna put us ahead of the competition if we just wait.

Everyone knows an overly practical person – the one who sacrifices love, a social life and fun for money and saving.  This person has a house before you, retires before you, and drives a fancy car.  But at some point that person is alone on Christmas going “what was I saving all that money for, again?”

That’s the Isles right now.  They’ve stockpiled prospects and kept themselves miles below the salary cap for years now.  But for what?  There has to be an end-goal, a purpose.  Until they turn some of those picks and prospects into a sincere attempt at winning – which, um, should be the goal for every franchise - what’re we saving for?

Vancouver's chips: hometown, Cup hopes. Isles HAVE to over-pay to get guys right now.

I know Charles Wang wants, nay, needs a new building on the Island.  But the team is under contract to play at Nassau Coliseum until 2015.  We can’t just roll over until then.  And doing so has turned us into Edmonton, one of those “well, I guess it’s nice to at least play in the NHL” type of teams.

When players turned down going to the Island during the FRENZY, it wasn’t because of the building, it was the team’s recent history of being a bottom-feeder, and showing no signs of trying to be anything but. 

New York lost free agents Hamhuis, Martin and Volchenkov to teams that have sincere chances to win the Cup next year.  Or at least compete for it.  It has nothing to do with the available snack food on the concourse, and everything to do with avoiding a team that won’t spend to succeed.

Free agency isn’t over.   The Isles will get someone to satiate the fans desire for some new blood.  At least for another NHL-calibre player or two.

For me, it would have been worth a few years where Kovalchuk is overpaid at the end of a deal to have a player that makes the team better and entertains the fans. 

Scoff if you want at deals like “Phil Kessel for picks”, but all the sudden the Maple Leafs roster looks a whole ton shinier than the Isles because they’ve been aggressive.  If you were predicting which team would finish higher in the standings by looking at the rosters halfway through last season, there’s no WAY you would’ve picked Toronto.  Now?

Needless to say, I’m disappointed.

Gotta get more of these jerseys to the Island!

 

Comments

28 Responses to “Ilya Kovalchuk…. is NOT an Islander”
  1. Ken says:

    Part of me is sad and part is happy. It would be nice to see a real star in an Isles uniform aside from the up and coming ones we definitely have on the team already. But, it also seems to go against their “plan” by spending so much on a guy who, although an amazing offensive presence, has flaws. And yes, every other team does have promising prospects but the one thing that the Isles recent “bottom feeding”, as you put it, has provided is the possibility to pick what may be the best available prospects. Will they all pan out, probably not. Do they have a better chance of making a difference than guys picked by teams who picked much later in the draft, hopefully. And let’s face it, the Isles don’t have a great track record when giving out huge long term contracts.

  2. jtbourne says:

    Yep, they do have some quality prospects, but like you said, the success rate of them turning into actual quality NHLers is a pretty small. As for the long-term contracts: If your team struggles at shooting three pointers, and you’re down three in the dying seconds of a game, you still have to take that shot. And man-oh-man are the Isles down three right now.

  3. Kennedy says:

    Building through the draft is an interesting thing. You can either be the Blackhawks, or the Blue Jackets. Kovalchuk’s signing would have allowed Tavares more time to develop without the pressure of being the “go-to guy” on the team – which would likely have helped matters.

    Maybe Ponikarovsky is more the Islanders speed. Hey, at least he’s Russian.

  4. jtbourne says:

    Haha, Ponikarovsky. Excuse while I wipe my mouth, in which I just vomited. Good point about letting Tavares breath for a second.

  5. PotvinRocks says:

    I got to agree. At some point you have to try to become better through Free Agency & the draft. If you had a choice of the Isles or the Pens or Vancouver and a shot at the cup, who would you choose? If the Islanders had Kovalchuk, wouldn’t that cause more free agents be attracted to play on the island. Looks like we’ll be choosing 1st overall more often.

  6. mikeB says:

    I’d rather see an offer sheet go out to Bobby Ryan, who curiously isn’t signed and hasn’t gotten an offer sheet yet (I don’t think they went to arbitration, but could easily be wrong), and then bite the bullet with the draft picks. The other problem with signing someone like Kovalchuk in Long Island is who plays centre with him? Sure Josh Bailey could turn into a dynamic passing machine, but he is still VERY young and probably 2 or 3 years away from putting up 70pts in a season (even with Kovalchuk). Kovachuk isn’t going to play with John Tavares, they both shoot and score. Thats their jobs, and nobody is going to change either of them. Kovalchuk makes players better (see: Peverly, Rich) but lets not get too crazy here.

    He would be a welcome addition to any team.

  7. Trevor says:

    What do you project the Isles top 6 D as this year? de Haan or Hamonic make it this year?

  8. jtbourne says:

    MikeB: So wait – your reason to not bring talent on the team is because there’s no talent on the team? Kovalchuk could play with you and be effective. He could be the “at least I could play with HIM” guy for other free agents. Gotta start somewhere.

  9. Jarick says:

    I’m just amazed Kovalchuk can play with that tiny stick.

  10. mikeB says:

    I know what you mean.

    Right now someone should be saying “at least I could play with Tavares”.

    He will make a team better. Always, and make someone else better. I just have never really liked him, something is off.

  11. jtbourne says:

    MikeB – I hear ya. Elliotte Friedman talked to some GM who was discussing the requirements of the type of player you give a long-term contract to, and one of the things was “ability to self-motivate” (since the money is taken care of). As much as I’m pro-signing him, I’m not positive he has that.

  12. Justin,

    GREAT BLOG! You are dead on about the NHL’s youth movement happening with every team rather than the odd team here and there. As well, I love that you mention a lot of these prospects (although strong prospects) aren’t proven to date and could-be stars.

    You touched on Phil Kessel and something I never see anyone talk about when that people talk about that trade… Kessel was – at the time – the best young star not locked into a long term contract that was semi-available. Toronto needed a star and he was the best available young player. It was a bold and aggressive trade, but not completely wreckless. And when you consider some of the Leafs FA acquisitions like Bozak, he’s the equivalent of a mid-late 1st round pick anyways. This all coming from a non-Leafs fan. Anyways, great blog. One of favs that you’ve done recently. Nice work.

  13. Kennedy says:

    Good point on the motivation. Kovalchuk is not Jarome Iginla. At this point is playing with Tavares really a selling point? On the flip side – is Kovalchuk a guy who will entice other guys to play on the Island and preferably for less? Hossa signed in Pittsburgh because of Crosby and Malkin. Ditto in Chicago with Kane and Toews. Does a Hossa go to NYI for Kovalchuk and Tavares – at this point I don’t think so.

  14. Kennedy says:

    Kessel is a no brainer trade from a GM’s perspective. I get a guaranteed 30 goal scorer or I draft a potential NHL player – could be Crosby, could be Alexander Daigle. For a guy on basically a year to year contract – making the play for immedate guaranteed impact is to good to pass up.

    Same apples to the Versteeg deal. Stalberg may be the best player in that deal – but today it’s Versteeg.

  15. Rich says:

    You’re so excited about Tavares and Okposo that you give us a picture of Sean Bergenheim?

    No one on the Isles puts that “We have to shut this guy down” fear into opponents. Kovalchuk would have done that and given everyone else on the team a boost as well.

  16. jtbourne says:

    Eh, I rushed it. Thought it was a Bailey pic.

  17. Dave says:

    I think they need Kovalchuk if just to get to the cap floor. The Isles are in BIG trouble, with 20 players signed, and still $8 million under the salary cap floor ($43.4 million).

    Even though I’m a Ranger fan, I don’t see how the Islanders can reach the cap floor without getting a big ticket UFA. Maybe Frolov at $5 million, and then someone else? I would say offer sheet a RFA, but it’s not worth losing the picks right now.

  18. Sherry says:

    I know it’s not sexy, but you got a really solid D-man and great team guy in Eaton – was sorry to see him go and will be wishing him tall the best on the Island.

  19. Sherry says:

    geez, *all* the best (my dad’s monitor sucks)…

  20. bluliner says:

    If the Islanders want a better team, feel like spending some money, and want to make some headlines; take on some crap contracts.

    Think Souray, Huet, and Redden…3 absolute shit contracts, but they can play hockey. A D-corps of Streit, Souray, and Redden is pretty damn good if you ask me. Expensive…oh ya…but if their teams REALLY want them gone, the Islanders can stockpile some picks as well.

    The Islander’s goaltending next season is relying on a 41 y/o and a dude that shatters weekly… Huet is a damn good goalie who I think drank Jo-Bu’s rum Chicago. Roli still has ‘it’ but he can he play 65+ games? Probably not without injury or getting worn down. So why not have 2 #1′s?

    Throw caution to the wind and break out the checkbook. Show the people that the NYIs want to win hockey games and make the playoffs. Hell, just think of the headlines; “The Island of Misfit toys!”.

    No doubt the Islanders would be better next season (can they get worse?). They’d have some very good d-men who will contribute in all situations while making the forwards’ job much easier. Two solid goalies and still room under the cap to quire at the deadlines would show the NYI’s mean business.

    Those 3 guys I mentioned are very good hockey players…no doubt about it. If the goal is to make the playoffs, these deals look to be a quick, and expensive, way to rebuild the team overnight.

  21. Vek says:

    I’ll go out on a limb and say that at least 5 players out of that first round draft are going to be considered better NHL players that Tavares.

    Duchene, Myers, and pick 3 more.

    The isles have a long way to go back to respectability.

  22. mikeB says:

    Vek – Tyler Myers was taken the year before (In the Stamkos Draft) first of all.

    Go through that first round and find 4 more. Tavares is likely to score you 30+, 80+pts for 5-8 years, end up with 700+career points, easy. Those guys don’t grow on trees.

    Victor Hedman looks like his ceiling is Matthias Ohlund (a good NHL D), Evander Kane probably will just turn into Todd Bertuzzi (3 or 4 really good years, but not until he plays on a decent team), Braden Schenn is someone who I just don’t seeing being super productive over the long term, but extremely useful (a-la Mike Peca), Ekman-Larsson has failed to impress at World Jrs (I don’t see much coming out of him at all), Nazem Kadri is Jason Spezza lite, Glennie will turn into Steve Ott, Cowen can’t skate, MPS is playing in Edmonton, etc…..

    Maybe Kulikov, but he’s stuck in FLA.

    Thats just my opinion, and I am know to be wrong once and a while, but you will be hard pressed to pick someone, let alone 4 being better than JT.

  23. andy says:

    im a little shocked that kovalchuk is such a polarizing player.
    all he does is score goals. 40+ goals is 6 of 8 seasons.
    for me, outside of ovechkin, hes the most exciting player in the game.
    how do fans not want him on their teams?

  24. neil says:

    Let’s keep in mind that the Kessel deal was for two first-rounders and a second rounder, and the Leafs weren’t exactly lighting it up when the trade got made so you know there was at least one person in the room telling Brian that at least one of those 1st rounders was going to be a top-10 pick.

    I love your Kovy points Bourne, and if he signs for 60 mil in NJ (which sounds very likely right now) there are gonna be a lot of Islanders fans wondering why they couldn’t sign this guy for a slightly bigger contract to play with Tavares.

    Vek, I think Tavares is better than you think!

    Lastly, how come you keep blocking my posts about the climate change conspiracy? You’re the one who brought it up man. ;o)

  25. SDC says:

    forget the Kovalchuk lottery, Isles should throw their name in the hat for the Modano sweepstakes! Half-serious. The likes of Afinogenov and Selanne are still out there too….

    Nassau until 2015?!?! I guess they didn’t work things like “mandatory construction updates for building code norms that become violations due to their expiry over the next 43 years” into the contract they signed in 1972.

  26. neil says:

    there’s a ton of UFA talent out there still, the Islanders might be one of those teams like Dallas that has a “self-imposed cap”? I’m starting to wonder…

  27. jtbourne says:

    Neil – The Isles definitely have a self-imposed cap, there’s no doubt about that. But surely it’s higher than the salary floor, y’know? I hope, anyway! As for Kovalchuk, I talked to someone (a very credible, in the know someone) who says “if the Islanders want to sign Ilya, they can”. But they don’t want to. More than anything, the Isles want to give their fans the impression they tried to sign big names (leaking offers, telling reporters who they’re after), but they don’t actually want to do it…. yet. Still, like you said, there are other UFA’s available, and they will get someone.

  28. jtbourne says:

    andy – I can contort my brain to where there might be some hesitance, but in the end, I’d agree. After Ovy, most exciting player in the game. Don’t you at least want to raise the thrill-factor if not the winning percentage?

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