Blog Entry

Kovy gets things rolling

Posted on: July 19, 2010 3:44 pm
 
Now that Ilya Kovalchuk has signed a contract, everyone in the hockey world can start focusing on what matters to them.

Apparently this isn’t going to take very long, something the Tampa Bay Lightning proved by getting Simon Gagne from the Flyers in a trade only a couple of hours after Kovalchuk re-signed with the New Jersey Devils. Until all this, life had been usually quiet for early July in terms of player movement, but that seemed to change as soon as the Devils tweeted they had re-signed Kovalchuk.

It was actually quite a coup for the Devils to bring back Kovalchuk, the talented free agent whose fate seemed to keep everyone around the league in a state of suspended animation. Truth is Kovalchuk really didn’t have many suitors, although one was a Russian league team looking to make a big splash for its league, but New Jersey still gave up a nice package to trade for Kovalchuk at the deadline without knowing whether he’d end up a short-term rental. And New Jersey never seemed to be the first choice of a superstar who assumed he would have many.

In this economy, he didn’t.

That was really the biggest break for the Devils who kept the lines open and according to the New York Post made offer for $100 million for 17 years or $60 million for seven. A nice take home certainly, although the repeated efforts that Kovalchuk and the Los Angeles Kings made to reach an agreement suggested that playing Hollywood always seemed more appealing to the high-scoring forward than Newark.

Problem is Kovalchuk found himself the prize of the wrong free agent class. He’s one of the rare superstars to hit the open market entering his prime, and by getting big money offers from the Atlanta Thrashers before they traded him at the deadline too, he obviously expected similar numbers from bidders this summer. What he found instead were few teams with the budget and or the cap room to pay for him.

The Kings were among those few, but with several of their young budding Stars coming up for expensive renewals in the next couple of seasons, they had a limit. And they came out the losers for the time being because Gagne, a 30-year-old big time scorer with one year left on his contract for $5.25 million, was thought to be their back up plan.

But Tampa Bay snatched Gagne out from under their noses, something that should get the dominoes, particularly when it comes to other notable names, to start falling. Several notable free agents like Marty Turco, Mike Modano, Paul Kariya and Bill Guerin are among those still looking for jobs, while high-end players on the trading block include Ottawa’s Jason Spezza, Boston’s Marc Savard, Toronto’s Tomas Kaberle and who knows who from the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Stanley Cup champs have been forced to strip down their roster since winning because of salary cap problems, and were backed into giving Niklas Hjalmarsson a big raise last week when the San Jose Sharks gave him an offer sheet. Chicago didn’t want to lose the young defenseman, but to keep him, the cap-stretched Blackhawks may be forced to trade someone like Patrick Sharp or lose goalie Antti Niemi after arbitration.

Meanwhile, the Devils will have some cap issues of their own as a result of signing Kovalchuk. The upper limit for the coming season is $59.4 million and New Jersey already had nearly $56 committed to 19 players before adding Kovalchuk. Still Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has been a masterful manipulator of the cap since the lockout and no doubt has a plan of action.

Kovalchuk should be worth the effort. He is a go-to guy which his critics claim makes him an ill fit for the disciplined game the Devils play. But Kovalchuk had more assists than goals when he averaged a point per game after joining New Jersey in the trade. And having played 27 regular season games and five more in the playoffs with the Devils gives him a comfort level.

The Devils might revert to even style under rookie coach John MacLean next season after adding Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder to their blue line. But keeping Kovalchuk alongside Zach Parise puts two of the most dangerous offensive players in the league on the
Atlantic Division champs.

Then again, what rookie GM Steve Yzerman is putting together in Tampa Bay doesn’t look too shabby either. Gagne will add to what is a pretty potent offense that includes 50-goal scorer Steven Stamkos along with Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier.

“I’m very excited right now,” Gagne said after waiving his no-trade clause.

He’s probably not the only one.
Category: NHL
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