Anyone else annoyed by the continuing Ilya Kovalchuk saga? Or whatever else you feel like calling it at this point. It seems to be the only big hockey story being focused on right now by non-serious hockey fans and sports media. Yes I know this post is only adding to the countless articles and blog posts about it. There is nothing I can tell you here that you have probably not already heard or thought of. So instead I am going to “put in my tw0 cents” on the topic, and then take a look at two other free agent forwards that are still sitting on the market.
Where should Ilya go? Everyone has there opinion and input, and here is mine real quick. Kovalchuk is very-much a talented scorer and is in the middle of his career. But $10 million per season and for somewhere from 6-10 years? That is not smart at all, as any GM that agrees to that is only crippling his franchise and not for just a couple of seasons. At a time when the cap may go down or stop increasing over the next few seasons, that means that a team would be taking up almost %20 of a teams funds to have one player. That is a lot to invest in one player, when you have a full roster to build. That leaves 20-22 players to be paid $45-46 million, meaning that if the team has two or three good players and an average goalie, a lot of the lower guys will have to be on salaries at less then $1 million a year. While it can be done, it will limit a team from being to give money to young players as they grow, have a back-up that is paid any sort of money, and be able to have some strong depth without players taking less money then they could get somewhere else. Also, that is a long time to sign a player to. He could get injured, or have a couple of bad years. Say he has a rocky 2-3 years in the middle of that, then you are paying a fortune to someone who is not at the same level anymore or is not evening playing for you. All this leads me to say that I think he should take $7 million a year and be happy. We know you are a great offensive talent, and can be a big face for a franchise. But asking a team to pay you that much is really high in my opinion and can only hurt a team from being stronger. And I am not sold that he is at the same level as Crosby or Ovechkin. But if he has to have that much, go to the KHL. Spend a few years there, make some money, and then coming back after the next collective bargaining agreement. If he does that, he could come back in 3 years at 30 and be able to see what GMs around the league will be able to spend. It is his choice but I think he should go to the KHL, because it looks to me like he is just chasing money.
So who would I go after instead of Kovy if I was looking for a scoring punch? One of the top names left is Lee Stempniak, who spent the last season in Toronto and then shined in Phoenix. He did look noticeably different in the two different environments, putting up 30 points (14 G, 16 A) in 62 games with the Leafs but catching fire for 14 goals and 4 assists in 18 games after being traded to the Coyotes. But then again, the right-winger only had 2 assists in the Coyotes 1st round exit in 7 games at the hands of the Red Wings. So long-story short is that he can be an offensive weapon but is susceptible to stints where he is not that effective. But for a few teams maybe looking to spend a little but not a lot, he could be a good second line option or a strong 3rd liner. He can provide 45-55 points in a season and be a nice addition to a team already competing. Another left-winger that could leave North America for the KHL is the former L.A. King Alexander Frolov. Frolov has to offensive ability but was not consistent himself this last season, and is on the market because L.A. is looking for more in Kovalchuk. Frolov can be a 60-70 point player and score goals, evident a couple of years ago when he had 32 goals. But he has fallen out of favor with the Kings and is still on the market. He has said that could return home to Russia and play in the KHL if he does not get signed here in the NHL soon. The question is does any team want to spend $3.5-4 million a year on him and hope he can produce consistently and fit their system.