Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Cut The Damned Cord Already

I want to warn everyone up front that I'm not in a very good mood this evening. It has a lot to do with getting soaked in the rain this evening while umpiring, but it has more to do with a player and his agent expecting the world when they have yet to deliver anything of substance in their careers to the only two teams of which the player has been a part. The Los Angeles Kings and Ilya Kovalchuk continue to tease one another with offers and counter-offers, yet neither is happy with the other's offers. And so the dance continues, the two suitors continue to strut like a couple of peacocks with their tails unfurled, and neither are willing to compromise to break this stalemate.

The only defence I have for Kovalchuk's and agent Jay Grossman's stance towards the salary they believe Ilya Kovalchuk is worth is due to his incredible statistical performances in the regular season. Six times saw the Russian sniper has scored 40+ goals. He hit 52 goals twice thus far in his career. His 642 points in 621 games is impressive considering he has never played with a legitimate centerman for the majority of his career. He was the 2003-04 Maurice Richard Trophy winner as he led the league in goals.

However, with the length of time it has taken to get Kovalchuk to sign, you would think that the Kings would well ahead of the game, right? Except they're not, and Kovalchuk is out partying in Hollywood while the Kings are fretting over whether they need to break their cap-wise mandates.

Here's what I'm thinking, Los Angeles: cut the damned cord. Move on. Let the big fish get away. There are a number of excellent reasons to pursue this course of action despite you breaking your fans' hearts once again.

First off, Kovalchuk has one playoff win in his career in nine games. For a team that looks like it has a large number of playoff runs in front of them, getting a player like Kovalchuk would be counter-productive. Consider this: the biggest complaint against Kovalchuk in last year's playoffs with the New Jersey Devils is that he tried to do too much by himself. With all the talent that New Jersey has, you would think he would have distributed the puck a little more, right?

Nu-uh. Not this Kovalchuk. The result? A five-game upset of the Devils by the upstart Philadelphia Flyers. How will players like Kopitar, Brown, Doughty, and Stoll react when their number of touches drop because #71 puts his head down everytime while trying to split the bigger, badder Western Conference defencemen? Do you think there might be a little resentment towards Kovalchuk if the Kings get bounced because he tried to do too much all by himself?

Secondly, that cap space that GM Dean Lombardi has created has allowed the Kings to keep the majority of their key players while having the cap room to sign a couple of major players that compliment those young superstars. Both Doughty and Johnson are restricted free agents after next season, and there's no doubt that both men will be looking for a substantial raise from their current $825,000 and $1.65 million salaries, respectively. Remember that cap space? Yeah, it's important if you want both players in Los Angeles past 2011.

By giving Kovalchuk the maximum salary, reportedly around $8 million per season, the Kings essentially paint themselves into a corner in terms of signing Doughty, Johnson, Erik Ersberg, and Justin Williams at the end of the 2010-11 season. If Kovalchuk won't play for for $6 million cap hit, he's simply not worth it. I can't say this enough, Kings fans: cap space is an important commodity in today's NHL, and GM Dean Lombardi has done an excellent job in managing the Kings' cap space thus far. Don't stray from this path. Otherwise, the rebuild may start again in two years.

Why not go after a player like Maxim Afinoganov? Afinoganov has shown excellent scoring abilities, and will come much cheaper than Kovalchuk. Will he score 50 goals? Probably not, but if Afinoganov is happy, he will produce.

How about Alexei Ponikarovsky? Like Afinoganov, Ponikarovsky won't score 50 goals, but he will contribute and can play on the powerplay. Both of these options are entirely what the Kings need, and there's a reason why they should go after a smaller fish.

That reason? Anze Kopitar is on the precipice of being a major NHL star. There is no reason for the Kings to bring in a marquee free agent that will take the Slovenian's spotlight when he has worked so hard to be so good. Kopitar shoots, passes, scores, and skates hard every night, and he needs to continue his development by getting his touches. By bringing in Kovalchuk, the offence will naturally flow through his whenever he's on the ice, and it will lessen Kopitar's role as a scoring option. Kopitar will still get his touches, but they won't be the prominent touches that he saw this past year that allowed him to develop into the player he currently is.

The same goes for players like Doughty, Simmonds, and Johnson in terms of them jumping into plays to create scoring chances. If Kovalchuk is jumping into those spots, these players will begin to slow in their developments. If that happens, the Los Angeles Kings will begin to stagnate.

Don't believe me? Check out how well the Thrashers played after dealing Kovalchuk to the Devils last season. Atlanta went 10-8-5 after dealing away their superstar, and a few players stepped up to fill the void left when Kovalchuk left. By pushing these players to step up, Atlanta will develop their youngsters a little faster because they will be given the opportunity to do things that they expected Kovalchuk to do before. Instead of having Kovalchuk take all the important touches, they are now being given the opportunity and, judging by their record, are doing a very good job with these new responsibilities.

Would it be great to have Kovalchuk wearing the crown next season? Of course.

Would it be great to have Doughty and Johnson for the foreseeable future? Yes.

Which is more important? Because if I had to choose, I'd take two young, dynamic defencemen for the next five years over one scoring sensation. Couple that with a confident Kopitar, Brown, and Simmonds, and you have yourself a pretty solid core group of players that will carry the team for a long time.

Cut the damned cord already, Los Angeles. He's just not worth it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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