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Source: Kings Leading Contender for Security-Craving Ilya Kovalchuk

Jun 30, 2010 – 5:25 PM
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Christopher Botta

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Unlike the LeBronathon, the pursuit of Ilya Kovalchuk will not be a cross-country pursuit of team owners and celebrities hopping into their Gulfstreams to make their pitches. When the six-time 40-goal scorer makes his final decision with the consultation of agent Jay Grossman, it will be after a series of phone calls that will begin soon after noon on Thursday.

According to an NHL source, the leading contender for the Russian right wing's services are the Los Angeles Kings.

"This hasn't been a well-kept secret," said the league source. "Maybe the Kings sensed there probably aren't more than three or four teams seriously in the hunt, and wanted to get the word out they were prepared to dig deep. There is always going to be that surprise team, like Chicago last summer grabbing (Marian) Hossa for 12 years. But heading into July 1, the Kings are the front-runners."

Los Angeles has not been shy about wanting to make a splash in unrestricted free agency. Kings governor Tim Leiweke referenced the Kobe-led champion Lakers last week and acknowledged his team was determined to find star players to put the finishing touches on GM Dean Lombardi's three-year rebuilding program. The Kings have the salary cap space to give the security Kovalchuk craves.

"The KHL gives him an option and some leverage -- although not too much."
And make no mistake, the security of the NHL and a respected franchise is what Kovalchuk wants more than anything else. The 27-year-old has already demonstrated that it's not 100 percent about the money for him; if it was, he would have accepted the $100 million offer of his team of seven-plus years, the Atlanta Thrashers.

Of course, Kovalchuk could blow up the theory by accepting a mind-blowing offer from the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. However, a reliable source tells FanHouse that Kovalchuk has a strong preference for the NHL.

"The KHL gives him an option and some leverage -- although not too much," said the source. "The teams that pitch Kovalchuk this week know he wants to stay in the NHL."

In 621 career NHL regular season games, Kovalchuk has 338 goals and 304 assists for 642 points. He has only played in nine playoff games: a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Rangers when he was with Atlanta, and this season's five-game, opening round loss to Philadelphia as a member of the New Jersey Devils.

If Kovalchuk signs with the emerging Kings, getting more chances to prove himself in the Stanley Cup Playoffs will not be a problem.
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