Kovy Signs: Now We Can Get On With Our Lives

Big news in the NHL today as Kovy finally decided on where he wanted to spend the balance of his career. The fact it was New Jersey which offered the most in terms of money was somewhat surprising as most pundits figured the LA Kings would go all-out to add a marquee talent to it’s roster to augment the impressive, young core already in place. New Jersey’s offer of a 17 year contract paying out a total of a reported $102 million trumped the Kings’ offer of 15 years and $80 million.

Naturally the deal is heavily front-loaded to lessen the AAV and to make it cap friendlier. Kovy’s deal, according to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, will pay out $95 million in the first 9 seasons and just $7 million over the final 8 years. That makes the AAV only $6 million.

We all are aware how teams have recently exploited the loophole in the CBA and it makes no sense as a fan to complain about it. The loophole exists for every team; some have used it while others (like the Rangers) have not. Obviously, Ilya will not be playing for relative peanuts ($550,000) when he is 40. He will retire before then.

One thing that strikes me as odd is Kovy only receiving $6 million (real money) in each of the first 2 seasons. His salary then jumps to a hefty $11.5 million in each of the next 5 campaigns. New Jersey isn’t a team with the revenue sources of a Toronto or a New York. $11.5 million for one player is a lot of coin for Lou Lamierello to be shelling out.

So why does Kovy’s salary in years 1 and 2 pale in comparison to the $11.5 million per he will receive in years 3 - 7? My guess would be that the contracts of Brian Rolston, Colin White, Bryce Salvadore and Martin Brodeur are all off the books following the 2011 - 2012 season. That’s $16.1 million (cap hit and actual salary) that comes off the books for the Devils. Assuming the Devils are not flush with cash as I believe they are not, postponing the larger salary seasons of Kovy’s deal until 2012 - 2013 makes it more palatable from a cash flow perspective.

Still, one concern voiced by Devils fans and reinforced by many a Rangers fan, is Zach Parise’s pending restricted free agency following the 2010 - 2011 season. Parise, who is set to earn $5 million ($3.125 million cap hit) in 2010 - 2011, will undoubtedly be looking for an increase. He is sure to point to the Kovy deal as a framework for his next contract.

Here’s the stark reality facing the Devils next offseason: they will have 13 players under contract with a cumulative cap hit of just under $48 million. Even if we assume a moderate increase to the salary cap, say $2 million, that would leave the Devils with roughly $13.5 million with which to lock up Parise and fill out the rest of the roster. If Parise gets his $6 million cap hit deal, the Devils would have $7.5 million left over to try to sign or replace; Jason Arnott (UFA), Jamie Langenbrunner (UFA), Vladimir Zharkov (RFA), Andy Greene (UFA), Anssi Salmela (RFA) and Johan Hedberg (UFA).

Of course, Lou could always tap into his system to replace a number of the departing UFA’s but that would mean the Devils would need several young players to handle NHL regular minutes and perform well. It’s one thing to expect one or two young, unproven players to contribute but if you’re looking for three or more to step in and replace productive vets you may be asking for trouble.

Naturally this becomes less of an issue if the Devils are able to find a taker for the final 2 seasons of Brian Rolston ($5.0625 million cap hit) or perhaps Dainus Zubrus ($3.4 million cap hit for 3 more seasons). Currently, the Devils sit $1.8 million over next season’s cap limit of $59.4 million (all salary numbers courtesy of www.capgeek.com). They will need to do something before the start of the season to get compliant with the cap.

So, do I like the deal for the Devils? It’s actually a trickier question than it appears on the surface. I love the fact it’s just a $6 million cap hit. Say what you want about what Kovy isn’t (good defensively, a proven playoff performer and winner, etc.) but what he does as well or better than pretty much anyone else in the NHL is score goals. Ilya is pretty much a lock for 40 - 50 goals a year in any offense in the league; New Jersey included. For what he brings offensively, $6 million is a great deal for New Jersey.

What would worry me were I a Devils fan is how out of character trading for originally and now awarding a monster deal to a player of Ilya’s ilk is for Lou (gotta love my use of alliteration and assonance in that sentence). The Devils GM has been highly successful building teams that play team-first hockey. They’ve seen numerous stars walk away for bigger bucks and brighter lights but still have been to the playoffs 15 consecutive years. This is the culture Lou has instilled in the organization.

I’m not saying Ilya is a “cancer” or a “disruptive force,” in the locker room. I have no doubt Ilya will play hard in New Jersey. But, is Ilya a Devils’ type player? We’ve all heard the cliché about a square peg and a round hole. Is keeping Kovy around indefinitely the equivalent of cutting the hole out to accommodate the peg? Is expecting Kovy to adapt to the Devils style or hoping the Devils employ a hybrid of the conservative hockey they are known for, too much?

Looking at Lou’s other offseason moves, I notice how well those acquisitions fit into the Devils’ scheme. Henrik Tallinder plays a safe, smart game and will help mentor defensive prospect and fellow Swede Alexander Urbom. Anton Volchenkov plays a physical game and is an adept shot-blocker; generally considered team first traits. Jason Arnott had some of his best years in Jersey and brings size up front. He’s a good leader and will fit in well.

Trading for Kovy was a reasonable gamble by Lou. He was a pending UFA and an undeniably talented player. He had the potential to carry a team offensively. There was no more dynamic player available at last year’s trade deadline. Lou took a shot that the Devils could take advantage of Kovy’s offensive attributes and cover his defensive liabilities in the short term. Now Lou has hitched his wagon to Ilya long term.

Last year’s gamble didn’t pan out. Now Lou has placed the biggest bet of his career on the Ilya Kovalchuk thoroughbred. Time will tell whether Lou’s bet will payoff or if he rolled snake eyes. I say the odds are against him.

More Moves and News

Is Philly finally setting up to acquire a legitimate goaltender? The Flyers followed the news of Kovy’s signing by clearing some cap room. Philadelphia finally dealt longtime Flyer Simon Gagne as had been rumored. Gagne was believed to be a target of the Kings whether or not they were successful in signing Kovy. Unfortunately, the Kings missed out on another high profile forward when the Tampa Bay Lightning dealt D matt Walker and a 4th round draft choice for Gagne.

Gagne joins talented forwards Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone in what should be a potent Lightning offensive unit. Meanwhile the Flyers saved $3.55 million against the cap with the trade.

The Flyers have just more than $1 million in available cap space but if acquiring another goaltender, the team could demote Brian Boucher and his $925,000 cap hit. They also have 8 defenseman, one more than usually needed. Sending Oskars Bartulis’ $600,000 cap hit to the AHL would give the Flyers almost $2.5 million to sign Marty Turco or Jose Theodore.

If I had my druthers I’d rather have Marty Turco. Whether he’d be willing to take $2.5 million to have a chance at competing for a Stanley Cup is the question. Either way, the Flyers are in better position now ti add a goalie than they were before.

Of course Gagne was expendable; especially after the Flyers’ highly debatable acquisition of former Ranger Nik Zherdev. Zherdev doesn’t have the best rep in the NHL and it’s unlikely any of the Flyers vets will stand for Z taking any games off as he’s been known to do. On the surface, it seems a risky exchange, Gagne for Z. Z is younger and there is less of a chance of injury but Gagne was a proven fit with the black and orange.

Rangers Add More Defensive Depth

On Monday, Glen Sather added yet another defenesman to the organization by acquiring 22 year-old Matt McCue from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for F Tomas Zaborsky. McCue spent the season split between Manitoba of the AHL and Bakersfield of the ECHL. It’s likely McCue will just serve as organizational filler in Hartford or Charlotte.

He does bring good size at 6’5” 220. He finished with 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) in 29 contests last season.

Zaborsky spent the year in Finland after recording 31 points in 56 games in the AHL and ECHL in 2008 - 2009. He was originally a 5th round pick of the Rangers in 2006.

It’s easy to look at the recent trades for Steve Eminger and McCue and wonder about the progress of talks with RFA Marc Staal. The Rangers and Staal were reportedly far apart on terms of a new deal and there has been talk amongst us fans about Staal being a trade chip in their quest to add a much needed #1 Center.

The truth is I don’t see any available #1 Centers on the market that I would consider moving Staal for. I fully expect Staal to develop into a consistent offensive producer (35 - 40 points perennially) while furthering his reputation as a legitimate shutdown defender. The names of potentially available top line Centers isn’t particularly awe-inspiring relative to the quality of Marc Staal.

As much as I like Brad Richards, I wouldn’t part with Staal for him. Marc Savard? No way. The Rangers are just ensuring they have a cupboard full of defensemen; not paving the way to a Marc Staal trade. Expect the club to get their valued defenseman under contract before the summer concludes.

So What Should the Rangers Do?

Without a doubt the Blue Shirts could use the talents of a legit #1 center. Marian Gaborik would be better for it. The question is where to find one and what is the cost? My guess is the aforementioned Brad Richards.

First off, let’s look at why Richards would be a fit for the Rangers. Richards won a Conn Smythe while playing for John Tortorella’s Stanley Cup champion Lightning. He’s fresh off a 24-67-91 point season in Dallas. His career Point Per Game (PPG) average is .91. He’s recorded 20+ goals in 7 of 9 NHL seasons. His average 82 game season line reads: 22.5 G, 52.4 A, 74.9 Pts. Richards is also just 30 so should have some good seasons left in the tank.

Now for the bad news; Richards has 1 year left on his deal which pays him $7.8 million. Depending on what the Rangers would need to send back to Dallas, the cap hit is certainly a sticking point. The fact Richards only has one year left is also a negative. If the Rangers were to acquire a guy like Richards they should try to extend him to a cap friendly contract, say $4.5 - $5 million.

Back to the good news for a minute; the Stars’ owner, Tom Hicks, is in the midst of financial difficulties. In fact, rumor has it the team is close to being sold to a Canadian Billionaire (no, not Jim Balsillie). Until the sale goes through though it is conceivable the Stars could look to move Richards to gain some payroll relief.

The Stars are also a little thin on their blue line. Dallas has only 2 defenseman returning who recorded at least 20 points last year. Would a player like Michael Rozsival be of interest to Dallas?

Even in a down year Rozsival recorded 23 points; a figure which would have placed him 2nd among Stars’ defenseman. Prior to that, Rozsi turned in 3 consecutive seasons of 30 or more points.

Something perhaps more important to the Stars is the remaining salaries left on the respective contracts of Richards and Rozsival. Richards is owed $7.8 million in salary for the 1 year left on his contract. Rozsival is owed $7 million total ($4 million in 2010 - 2011) for the 2 years he has left on his deal.

Given those circumstances, I find it plausible the Stars would be willing to make a deal along those lines; Richards for Rozsival. If New York included a prospect or a draft choice, it could get the deal done. The Stars would be adding a veteran defenseman capable of bouncing back and putting up a 30+ point season plus a decent prospect. The Rangers would be getting a legit #1 Center that has experienced success playing for Torts. Seems like a win-win to me.