I believe we can all agree that Ilya Kovalchuk is the most talented sniper in the potential UFA market going into July, correct? Yes, I thought so. Patrick Marleau and Tomas Plekanec don't hold a candle to th scoring ability of Kovalchuk, so there will very well be some interesting discussions in the NHL about Ilya Kovalchuk. But hold on a second, there are now offers abound from Russia to get one of their best exports to North America back in their regime and they are willing to pay big money to get him.
Word is on Monday morning that SKA St. Petersberg has offered the Russian sniper a 3-year deal worth $42 million, which would also include some major signing bonuses on top of the deal. I cannot confirm about the bonuses, but I have seen it floating around as well. So, that equates to $14 million per year, where the NHL maximum due to the salary cap constraints is about $11.5 million in 2010, with expectations that the salary cap ceiling will go up by about $2 million, which would bring the league maxium to upwards of about $11.9 million, which is 20% of the salary cap total.
The questions now remain, how much is Kovalchuk worth and how much can an NHL team get him for, in terms of a cap value? Salary-wise, an NHL team should be able to frontload Kovalchuk's deal heavily, so they can really give him the money that he wants and the cap hit a team needs to build around him, but you would have to believe that Kovalchuk is not going to come to any team easily, unless there is a reputation for winning on their side.
Alex Ovechkin will go into the 2011 season (as of right now) with the highest cap hit at $9.538 million with the Washington Capitals and his deal runs for the next 11 seasons. Ovechkin sets the bar really high for Kovalchuk and would likely draw more comparisons to his structure than to anyone else. Ovechkin did re-sign with the Capitals as a centrepiece to the team that he was drafted by, so there has to be some leverage in from the Capitals when dealing with a restricted free agent at the time. Kovalchuk, on the other hand, will be looking to join a new team from the unrestricted free agent market, which has the ability to turn into a bidding war. This will drive up Kovalchuk's value and it will be up to him to decide whether or not he wants to hedge his bets towards a Stanley Cup Finals appearance or taking the money and running.
Kovalchuk and his agent have to know that the $14 million per season offer for the next three seasons cannot be topped by any team in the NHL and they may have the ability (not 100% sure) to sign right away, since the season has been completed and Kovalchuk is just days away from free agency anyways. If the money was the biggest factor, the $14 million would have to be very tempting to him and he would have just left. I'm thinking more along the lines that he's waiting to see what kind of offers come in on July 1st, see what teams are making a push and then make a decision from there.
There is also the point that we have not seen the official salary cap ceiling number for the 2010-'11 season either, which may be holding up the proceedings of any concrete rumours lifting to the surface from NHL teams. This new offer from Russia does seem to cover that and offer a bit more, so we'll really get to see if it's for the love of the Cup or money when Kovalchuk decides on his own future.