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Friday, August 27, 2010

As The Hockey World Turns

The dramatic soap opera that is the Ilya Kovalchuk contract dispute continued its sorted run with yet another twist.  In a report that surfaced last night, Kovalchuk's Russian agent, Yuri Nikolaev, gave the Devils and the NHL an ultimatum: approve one of the contracts that have been submitted for review, or Kovi will be playing in the KHL this season. 

Who knows if this is just a bluff to help push forward in the stalled discussions, or if they really mean business.  However, this isn't a new tactic for Ilya and his reps to take.  Back in '05-'06, Kovalchuk ran to the newly formed Russian League when his contract talks with the Atlanta Thrashers weren't going his way.  He played a grand total of 11 games in that league, until the Thrashers finally gave in and he returned to finish the year in the NHL.

This time is a little different in the fact that Nikolaev has stated that Ilya would not return for at least a year if he were to bolt for Russia.  And honestly, why would he, considering the truck loads of tax free cash Medvedev, the Russian equivalent of Bettman, is willing to back up to the door of his brand new, state bought, mansion?

Kovalchuk and his group have already made it pretty obvious that, while playing for a contender would be nice, becoming one of the highest paid NHL players, second only to Ovechkin, is what  they are really looking for.  Its this desire to stay as close to $100mil+ line as possible that forced Lou Lamoriello to extend this contract to infinity and beyond to make it anywhere near affordable to the club, and forced the league to act against its signing.

He is a great skater and one of the greatest snipers the league has seen.  But his overall game is nowhere near that of Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, and Thorton, and his paycheck shouldn't be near theirs, either.  Ilya has yet to demonstrate that he can be the heart and soul of a hockey club.  He might develop into that player on the right team, but you don't get paid $100mil for what you might do, you get it for what you have done, night after night.

Bettman and the league did the right thing in drawing a line in the sand and putting the kibosh on such a ludicrous contract.  It was one of the few acts of common sense I've seen from the NHL in the 25+ years I've been following hockey.  Hopefully they continue to stick to their guns on this one and not give into the "or elses" of Kovalchuk's camp.  Losing such a gifted goal scorer would be a blow to the league for sure, but the alternative is to further destabilize a league that is already teetering on the edge with another possible work stoppage, failing franchises, and public perception problems.

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