Will he? Won't he? It's the Kovy/Kings Show!
The Ilya Kovalchuk back-and-forth with Los Angeles has turned out some of the most interesting hockey coverage of the summer, from Rich Hammond's breakdown of salary structures on NHL.com ("Isn't math fun?" he asked) to Eric Duhatschek's somewhat amused dissertation on the merits of patience in the Globe and Mail of Toronto. "No rush gentlemen. Take all summer if you need it," he wrote.
Easy to say from 2,500 miles away. For a beat writer, the Kovalchuk situation is a non-stop stress fest. Who's tweeting what? Canadian television says that? How many times is it OK to call a GM before he just starts ignoring you altogether?
"The Kings need to end this soon so they can get on with the rest of the summer and their lives," Helene Elliott wrote in the Los Angeles Times last week, something of a personal plea, too, after two weeks of non-stop coverage.
"I feel like a hostage," Hall of Fame hockey writer Elliott told FanHouse. "This is the most bizarre thing, it's been goofy. You have to react to so many things that you know are ridiculous."
But for everyone who isn't reporting on the negotiations daily or chasing down scurrilous rumors, this is a fascinating process, far more so than LeBron James and his farce of an actual TV show. He'd made his decision, he was going to get his money somewhere, it was all just kind of painful.
Kolvalchuk, though, might not get what he wants. He's a top-notch player, certainly, but he's not among the very biggest superstars in his game, and paying him a ton – overpaying, perhaps – could be a risk, something that LeBron is not.
NHL teams, watching what's happening in Chicago, are more leery of payroll-skewing massive long-term deals.
Kovalchuk is being compared to Marian Hossa by some analysts, and while Kovalchuk is the better player, and younger, the impact of a $100 million contract on any team could be similar to the weight that Hossa has become, and will continue to be, to the Blackhawks.
But do the Kings want to say goodbye to Doughty or Johnson next year when they become restricted free agents? Does Kovalchuk really want to play for a team that winds up hamstrung by his contract? If he really believes the team and the city are a good fit, maybe an $80 million deal could suffice, especially it that hefty total comes with a title or two – something so far missing on his resume. The Devils are an OK option, sure, but the KHL? Come on. Then it really is about the money, an extra, what, $15 million or so.
Elliott reported going into the weekend that the deal was 98 percent completed, so perhaps her weeks of aggravation are over. She notes, though, that there are some significant issues to be settled. One is payment for the 2012-13 season, a consideration because of potential labor unrest – signing bonuses will be paid in the event of a work stoppage, salaries will not. Another detail to work out might be a no-trade or no-movement clause, or a variation thereof.
The most recent report, from Sunday via the New York Post, was that Kovalchuk was nearing a decision. The Post didn't take a stab at where he'll go, though, listing the usual suspects: Los Angeles, New Jersey, St. Petersburg of the KHL and even any mystery NHL teams not yet identified. That probably covers the bases.
Here's one guess, happily made from afar: this will get done. The Kings will not pay $100 million, they'll retain some cap flexibility, and they'll be a team to watch the next several seasons. And Kovalchuk just might win a title before LeBron James does.