From the Toronto Star:
There’s no reason at all to feel sympathy for Ilya Kovalchuk.
He’s a rich, talented hockey player who is going to get richer soon, and he might just show next month in Vancouver on the big Olympic stage that he’s even more talented than most believe.
Last time we saw the 26-year-old surrounded by this much skill, it was at the 2008 world championships in Quebec City, where he blasted home the winning goal in overtime of the gold-medal game.
But when it comes to Kovalchuk’s ongoing negotiations with the Atlanta Thrashers over a new contract, it’s reasonable to say that from a purely business point of view, as long as he’s dealing with the Thrashers he could be looking at a lose-lose, maybe even lose-lose-lose, situation.
Imagine this scenario: Kovalchuk signs a 10-year contract with Atlanta for $10 million a year. Then, starting next year, outside economic forces push the league’s escrow up from 13 per cent per paycheque to say, 20 per cent.
So now he’s getting $8 million a year.
Then, in 2012, a new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players includes another 24 per cent salary rollback and new limits on term for individual player contracts.
Finally, the Thrashers sell to new ownership, who sensibly give up on Atlanta, moving the team to Kansas City.
So Kovalchuk might end up playing for a sharply devalued, shortened contract in a city in which he doesn’t want to live for owners he doesn’t trust or like.
Now, it’s unlikely all these dynamics would come into play, but they might.
And if you’re Kovalchuk, already facing the same uncertain labour conditions as other NHL players who are part of a shattered union, why in the world would you add to your potential misery by signing with a consistent loser with ownership and attendance problems?
Still, with the brilliant sniper – 189 goals in the last four seasons – set to test unrestricted free agency July 1, his agent insists Kovalchuk “absolutely” wants to stay in Atlanta if a deal can get done.
“If they came to him and said we’ll make a deal on your terms, then we’ll make a deal,” said agent Jay Grossman.
Atlanta GM Don Waddell, of course, hasn’t been authorized to do that, and from a negotiation strategy point of view, it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense. That said, nobody seems to really know what the Atlanta Spirit ownership group headed by Bruce Levensen wants to do, either in terms of Kovalchuk and his contract demands or the overall payroll situation with the Thrashers.
Atlanta hasn’t said as a team, as Nashville basically has, that it won’t pay any player more than $5 million per season because it can’t. The Thrashers also aren’t one of those teams pounding at the salary cap ceiling. They’re in-between, a team run by an ownership group that isn’t sure whether it wants to keep the team, sell the team, sign Kovalchuk, trade Kovalchuk or call a timeout and ask for a lifeline.
Logic, then, suggests Kovalchuk will be on the move by the March 4 trade deadline. Waddell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that a trade “still looms as an option, but it’s not my first choice.”
Just as he was with Marian Hossa two years ago, however, Waddell is pretty much screwed as far as being able to make a superior trade involving Kovalchuk. He’ll just do the best he can.
That may, of course, still mean Kovalchuk will be unrestricted in July, at which point locals may well ask whether Brian Burke will have interest.
Burke doesn’t exactly have a track record in which he has embraced the Russian hockey culture. That said, beggars can’t be choosers, and Kovalchuk at least likes to drop the gloves now and then.
Maybe he can sign Kovalchuk and claim he’s the team’s new enforcer.
That solves so many of our problems. Kovalchuk can play 1st AND 4th line LW.