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Ilya Kovalchuk… An Islander?



My apologies on not getting a blog up this morning – I opted to cover the Frenz Frenzgency Frenerama in column form, and that takes an idiot like me a little longer.

My take on the possibility of Ilya Kovalchuk signing with the New York Islanders:

It’s interesting, in the wake of my week-long defense of Ilya Kovalchuk, that he might become the co-centerpiece of my favourite team (ahhh, in reality, Tavares is still the real cornerstone, even with the Ilyaddition.  ‘member when Rick DiPietro was supposed to be that guy?). 

The first thing the detractors will say is that the Isles overpaid for him.  Of course.  

I’ve been thinking this for weeks, and this is finally the right time to talk about it:  if a team doesn’t have cap issues, and isn’t anywhere near the ceiling (and nor do they intend to get anywhere near it)…. why do fans care about how a team operates it’s payroll?  Why be worried about running the books for Snow and Wang, or any other team with muchos space?  As fans, we’re supposed to enjoy the product on the ice, not the accounting front office part (y’know, until one kills the other *coughHawkscough*, then it’s relevant).

Okay, he wouldn’t be a bargain, but neither is a Bentley.  But people still buy Bentley’s, because they’re awesome, and those people can afford them.  (Of course, there are teams like - again – the Blackhawks, who had a garage full of beautiful cars when they picked up the Bentley Hossa, and had to get rid of other cars to make room for that one.  Again, THEN as a fan you’re justified for tuning in)

The simple reality, if it were to happen, would be this:

Here was their roster.  *shows without Ilya

Here’s their roster now.  *shows with Ilya

The second one is better, and they can afford him.  Who could be unhappy with that?

Young Islander fans could have someone exciting to go watch, and have reason to attach themselves to the team again.  I swear to god there’s people in Nassau Coliseum who think Sean Bergenheim is an enjoyable player to watch.  Entertainment value would go up (along with jersey sales, and even ticket sales to some extent).

Hypocrite paragraph:  I do worry about the length of the deal.  You really get murdered when you pay a fortune for a mid-career guy who’s success relies heavily on his quickness.  When he loses half a step at 33, and a whole one at 35, his massive paycheck could be a definite hinderence, so I’m praying there’s a nice tail on the end of whatever deal he signs (there won’t be much of one, I would bet).

But, again, that’s all business talk, and I just railed about not needing it until problems arise.  So hockey talk:

I DON’T think that Ilya Kovalchuk is going to suddenly make the Islanders a premier team.  The d-corps is still too weak, and the forwards depth is still too shallow.  But I DO think he probably adds four or five wins to the Islanders total, which could be what they need to get back into the playoffs.  It helps just having a guy on the team who can draw attention, finish his opportunities, and create space for others by making D back off him when he’s attacking.

I haven’t even had time to really think about the whole thing, but I just wanted to get some thoughts down tonight. 

What do you think?  “Weeeeee!”, right?

How often have you seen this thrill-level at Nassau Coliseum in the last few years, friends?


19 Responses to “Ilya Kovalchuk… An Islander?”
  1. Steve says:

    Hey man, I agree the Islanders have no trouble fitting a $10m hit into their salary structure right now, but what happens in two years when they have to resign Tavares? A ten year deal really paints you into a corner and it’s tough to build around a guy who’s taking up a fifth of your cap room all by himself. And a contract of that size is completely unmovable, so you’re right when he loses a step in 7 years he’s really going to hurt them. I think you’ll love him for 2-3 years and hate him for the rest.

  2. Liviu Bird says:

    A player will not turn a team from a pretender to a contender, but he can win a couple of games a season and add entertainment value for the fans, and that’s what professional sports are all about. And I agree with you on the fact that until it becomes a problem, a team’s finances should be “don’t ask, don’t tell” because honestly, who cares? It’s not your money, and you’re not the owner’s mommy or daddy, so let the guy spend his dough however he wants.

  3. jtbourne says:

    Steve – you’re totally right man, that’s definitely something to consider. The good thing is, if they want to give Tavares a big deal (and they will), there would still be plenty of room under the cap. The bad thing is, there wouldn’t be plenty of room under the team budget. Maybe they’ll have to make the committment to winning then (which I suspect they will). Personally I don’t like the concept of not adding good players because you MIGHT want to give money to a kid in a couple years who MIGHT end up as good as the guy you’re passing up (well, he’ll be more well rounded, but on offense? I dunno.). I’m rambling and need to go to bed…. good point though Steve.

  4. Pete L says:

    He makes the team better. The young guys get to learn from a true superstar, not another player who was a star. And the contract may be a problem years from now, but the Isles need to do something just to get to the CAP FLOOR! They were going to overspend for a couple of decent d-men who went elsewhere. I’d rather overspend for a superstar!

  5. bluliner says:

    Sorry…I don’t see what the big fuss is about this guy.

    Yes, he can skate. Yes, he can shoot…oh boy can he shoot. But all the other little things good players do, he’s lacking…namely defense. This is what makes hockey different from every other sport; you play defense and offense at the same time. While he’s world-class at one…he’s mediocre (and that’s being diplomatic) at the other.

    Not sure you would want to build a team around someone like that. Tavares on the other hand, that’s a pretty darn good place to start. Okposo is another kid that will grow up and become an absolute force.

    Why they haven’t snagged another d-man raises an eyebrow. Streit is a stud…but he can’t play 60min a game. Rolli is what? 41? And DiPietro’s injury history is another huge question. You’d think they’d try to give Streit, Okposo, and Tavares a solid supporting cast in the Det/Pitt mold…but who the hell knows.

    All I know is Olli Jokinen is a Flame…again. Hey, maybe the Islanders will poach some of Calgary’s d-men. They better get on that before Sutter gets an MRI under court order.

  6. MattyJ says:

    “It’s not your money, and you’re not the owner’s mommy or daddy, so let the guy spend his dough however he wants.”

    Actually, it is my money. JTBourne has probably never paid for an NHL ticket in his life :) , but I have. Do you think the team’s salaries don’t trickle down to ticket prices? When the cap started and teams had to cut their salary down, I don’t recall any teams passing the savings down to the consumer. There’s a reason a 12 ounce beer costs seven bucks at Staples Center. Hockey is a business and we’re the sugar daddies.

    Don’t get me wrong, I play into the system, but it’s a drag. A night out at an NHL game for two people can easily cost $200 if you want decent seats, and again that’s at Staples Center. I can’t imagine what it’s like at arenas where the team is actually vying for the cup.

    I live in San Francisco now but I’ll drive further to see an ECHL game in Stockton than I will to go see the Sharks. When I lived in San Diego I wouldn’t think twice about driving up to Bakersfield to see the Fog, er, Condors but it would take some hard thought and bank account scrutiny before I’d head to a Kings game. Back in the IHL/WCHL/ECHL heyday in San Diego I’d be lucky to see one Kings game a year, but I’d follow the Gulls up to Long Beach at least 3 or 4 times.

    Sure, minor league talent (no offense, JT) isn’t as good but I enjoy it thoroughly because those guys *want* to play hockey and make half what I do being a computer jockey. 20 bucks for seats along the glass. Awesome.

    I’m actually eagerly awaiting the arrival of Ilya to my beloved Kings lockerroom, but the reality is that when a team with cap space fills that space, it trickles down to the consumer. Hockey fans buying tickets (and jerseys, and pucks, and hot dogs, and license plate frames) are the main (though not only) revenue stream for NHL teams. The millionaire owners of teams are in the business of making money. They only sink their personal fortunes into teams until they realize how much money they are losing, then they move on. I’m guessing very few teams make a profit and guess who gets to make up the slack?

    So I do feel I have a vested interest in a team’s books. Certainly.

  7. neil says:

    “I swear to god there’s people in Nassau Coliseum who think Sean Bergenheim is an enjoyable player to watch.” lol

    “those guys *want* to play hockey and make half what I do being a computer jockey. 20 bucks for seats along the glass. Awesome.” You rule MattyJ, it’s late and I’m a little drunk but that got me pumped up

    Kovalchuk is an outstanding talent but from what I’ve read, he thinks he’s worth 2-3 million per year more than he is. The Isles are one of the few teams in the league that can afford to say “who cares” and give him big money for 2-3 years anyways just to have a chance at the postseason. Any longer than that and I’d start worrying about the things you (and Steve) mentioned.

  8. Vek says:

    Hmmm.. sign with a team who will be battling to make the playoffs for the rest of your career with some wacky owner, or sign with the Kings, who are maybe one or two players away from a cup contender, and enjoy the sunshine all winter. Tough choice.

  9. Dave says:

    blueliner….i think bourne said it earlier in the week….Kovalchuk is a brain surgeon. He is really really good at the one thing he needs to be really really good at. He’s not the total package, he isn’t expected to be. And of course he’s over valued right now, thats what being a high talent FA does for a player. It gives him the upper hand in negotiations. See Patrick Marleau’s extension.

  10. Bob says:

    I agree that the Isles have the cap space and it would be making a bold statement to the fans, but Kovalchuck is simply not a $10 million player and a 10 for 10 deal could look really foolish by year six or seven if he loses a step or loses interest. We already know Kovalchuk can’t or won’t carry a weaker team, as shown by his tenure in Atlanta (he even had Marian Hossa or Dany Heatley for a lot of the time), and if you sign him to a max contract, it limits the level of talent you fill out the rest of the team with, and no disrespect to the Isles, but he wouldn’t be the last piece of the puzzle, so why over-invest? He is clearly all about the money, given the negotiations thus far, so I would question how good of a teammate he would be in the long-term.

  11. Bishopville Red says:

    DAVE: I’m not into paying superstar money for a one-trick pony, Sure, it’s a great trick, but those players wear down teammates who make a fraction of the $$$ and have to do all the heavy lifting.

    This club has a pretty thorough (recent) history of getting the chemistry on the dressing room totally wrong, and putting the source of headaches on decade-plus deals to ensure we can’t get ourselves out of the mire easily. Ironically, Yashin is more valuable to us today as a cap hit than anything he ever did on the ice. DiPietro is soon to follow.

    Is he better than Crosby? Then why should he earn more?

  12. mikeB says:

    Remember the Alexei Yashin deal?

    Kovalchuk- 1 Rocket Richard and not a whole lot else playing for some terrible Atlanta teams
    Yashin – Hart Trophy Runner up, 10yr 87.5 mil playing with some terrible Ottawa teams

    They are going to get about the same contract, Kovy’s deal probably will be larger.

    They aren’t the same player, but Yashin was a more complete player, and you aren’t giving up a future Norris nominee and Jason Spezza, but its still a lot of money for a guy who says he wants to win, but just signed with the NYIslanders.

  13. Nick says:

    First time over here to visit…I googled ‘kovachuk to Islanders’ and stumbled upon it. So, then I first heard the news (earlier today) I basically freaked. You just never expect something this big to spring up this late in the game. However, if you start to connect the dots it shouldn’t have been that unlikely. At the trade deadline it was no secret that Snow pursued Ilya, so why wouldn’t he kick the tires around now. Factor in the gift the Isles were given when the SMG deal was restructured (finally allowing the Isles to make a little coin off concessions and concerts, ect) and things suddenly look better financially. Wang wants an arena. Snow has been throwing money at big-name FA since taking the job (and needs to reel in a big name to show players it’s okay to come to LI). It really seems like the perfect strom. Not to mention the cap situation.

    If he wanted to be a King he would have signed already, right ? They had all offseason to prepare their offer. It’s in Ilya’s agents hands. Yet, no deal. Same thing with the Devils, expect they probably are even further behind the 8 ball because they are frugal. No Rangers or Red Wings or Canadien teams in the mix. This is the perfect time for Snow to strike. Kudos to him for giving getting the Isles in the mix!! Hopefully this becomes a 4th of July we never forget.

  14. crushasaurus says:

    Building around a $10m guy is possible (Washington, Pittsburgh), but the Isles don’t have the secondary blocks like those teams have. The quality of their prospects is generally quite poor. Bailey and Bergenheim aren’t NHL quality, Tambellini has been moved on, Okposo will eventually bloom into an incredible player but for now is a second liner. If they do take the plunge and throw a 10 x 10 offer at him, how are they going to effectively build around him?

    If I’m Kovalchuk, I don’t see the attraction of going to another team who probably aren’t going to make the playoffs in the next three years. He’s spent all but 6 months of his pro career in Atlanta and got next to nothing out of it. Right now, he has no legacy whatsoever. Hockey wise and revenue wise, he’s a better fit in LA — a team better suited to a more European style of hockey.

    It’s like the LeBron James situation in the NBA right now. The man holds all the cards as far as free agency goes, but it’s widely acknowledged that a struggling team like the Knicks or the Bulls will have to bring in more than one top quality free agent to have a shot at the championship.

    If he does go to the Isles, Kovalchuk needs a top quality pivot and some support on the back end if he wants to make it into May.

  15. crushasaurus says:

    Also, the current Hockey News poll reads like this.

    Where will Ilya Kovalchuk sign?
    Eastern Conference 35 %
    Western Conference 32 %
    KHL 33 %

    Nobody knows.

  16. Will77 says:

    The biggest thing about offering all the money to Kovalchuk, is that the Isles are 9million from the cap FLOOR. They have to spend about 10million before the start of the season, and really, where else is it put to its best use? Overpay a ridiculous amount to guys that are 2nd liners at best? If you have to spend another 9million, why not spend it on a premier guy? Especially since overpaying for a premier guy is the the only way to get him on your team.

    Do I want Kovy in the blue and orange? Oh yeah. Do I think 10×10 is overpaying? Oh yeah. But it is the best use of money that they HAVE to spend.

    Well, maybe not the best. On the other hand, heres an interesting question; would you rather all that go to Kovy, or should you split about 11-12 million between Frolov and an offer sheet to Bobby Ryan?

  17. ny711ot says:

    Some of these comments are downright laughable; bailey not nhl quality, islanders cannot surround him with talent, kovy a one trick pony, overrated…me thinks you visited the cooler one too many times at the bbq. YOU KNOW NOTHING!!!!!!
    Ilya is a generational talent who frankly has more upside and could become a generational player. Talented russians tend to play in the nhl till their 50 so the length of the contract is a complete non issue. We will likely have 2 more renditions of salary caps and cba’s by the time this deal is complete whereby the annual payment could look like bargain.
    This is such a no brainer for the Islanders that I think anyone questioning it should really get their head examined…unless you are a kings fan or a ny hater of course……

  18. Ballgame says:

    I understand getting your money while can. But why not take a pay cut and go to a winner? His NHL career is ATL and then NYI?! Brutal. Yeah NJ but that was handful of games.
    As a hockey player there is nothing worse than losing a lot.
    Soooo when you already have $$$$ is there a big difference between 10 mil and 6-7 mil?

    In summary. Losing sucks

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