Kovalchuk Signs With… the Devils?


So there you have it. The saga is over. It took over two weeks, endless frustration and silly banter in the media. Kings fans, and indeed hockey fans across the continent were paying attention to the every whim of Kovalchuk and his negotiations. But it’s finally over. The New Jersey Devils have signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a reported 17 year contract. What does that mean for those of us in the Kingdom? Well by my estimation it means a few things:

  1. We are not quite the free agency destination that we want to be. Certainly there are teams that have a relatively easy time convincing people to play for their franchise. The Red Wings, the Penguins, apparently the Rangers (?) and virtually any consistently high-performing team has that advantage. The Los Angeles Kings do not. At least not yet. But there is reason for optimism. Previous Kings attempts to sign marquee free agents has not yielded even this amount of attention, so it’s clear we have become a potential destination. It’s a step in the right direction, and the Kings look like they’ll be positioned well to make a splash in free agency in the future, should the need arise.
  2. Ilya Kovalchuk was never going to be the reason we win a Cup. He’s a valuable piece, and you won’t find me changing my tune. He would have been an excellent signing for the Kings, but he wasn’t going to be the kind of player that carries a team to a Stanley Cup. Look at Ovechkin. The player is undeniably more talented than Kovalchuk, and provides a far more well-rounded game. Even talent like Ovechkin can’t carry a team to a Cup. Hell, he’s failed so far to even carry them to a Cup Final. Kovy is more of the same, with less real upside. Do we need a sniper? Hell yes, does it have to be Kovy? Nope.
  3. The Kings will have a better season next year than the New Jersey Devils. I would bet on it. The Devils won’t be awful by any stretch. In fact, if they let the chains off of Kovalchuk and let him do what he does, they may even be quite talented. But I don’t see them getting past maybe the 2nd round of the playoffs. Frankly a 4th consecutive 1st round exit would not be out of the question. Brodeur is a once in a generation talent. Parise, Volchenkov and Tallinder make for some solid support behind Kovalchuk, but they don’t have the depth that usually characterizes Devils hockey. They’ll have to make some moves to get the situation under the cap, which could lead to who knows what, and although unrelated to the results next season, a 17 year contract for Kovalchuk will make it much harder to retain the beating heart of the Devils team, Zach Parise.
  4. The Kings are back to square one. They need a veteran defenseman (Willie Mitchell anyone?) and a scoring winger. Frankly I think the best person to fill that need is Alexander Frolov. Now wait, I can hear you all groaning at your computer screen, but there are simple facts. He’s not being pursued as heavily as he might have hoped, which means in all likelihood his salary expectations may have come down a bit. He’s got real offensive potential that he has shown for this very team. He’s a beast with the puck and can help with that critical puck possession game that becomes vital in the playoffs and late in games. Is he the answer long term? Probably not, but a solid contract for $3-4 million for the next 2-3 years would not be outrageous. He made $2.9 last year, and is probably a touch better than that.
  5. Dean Lombardi is a more talented GM than most people give him credit for. He stuck to his guns and refused to give Kovalchuk the farm. A crazy long-term, high cap hit contract would cripple this team and keep up from locking up our homegrown youth. Doughty, Simmonds, Johnson, and even Bernier and Quick are the heart of this team, and where need to be looking. Kovalchuk would have helped next year, but even the slightest risk of losing those big names from inside the Kings pipeline would have made it a terribly decision. Props to Lombardi for sticking it out and doing the right thing. Even if it’s not too popular in the short term.

Final prediction. Kovalchuk won’t win a Cup with the Devils. They’ve got an outside (way outside) chance for the next couple years, but then Brodeur is gone, Parise will be tough to retain and the Devils, who mortgaged much of their future to get Kovalchuk in the first place will be back where they were in the 80’s. A mediocre team with not much to crow about, battling it out for hockey incompetence with the Islanders (of today), and the Rangers of… well… always.