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Lebron James, Ilya Kovalchuk make us wait, but Kovalchuk might want to change course

Jul 2, 2010, 11:00 AM EDT

lebron.jpgWhile July 1 was “Lebron James Day” for many sports fans, hockey-crazed people thought they’d finally get some answers about the NHL’s big free agent fish Ilya Kovalchuk. Thursday was supposed to be a day of closure regarding the two soon-to-be-huge-earners, but both basketball and hockey fans will have to wait to see the end of all the speculation.

The two players have quite a bit in common, although Lebron James has had far more success in the playoffs and Kovalchuk isn’t generally considered to be at the top of the NHL ladder (although some might say he’s just behind Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby). They both bring a unique set of offensive skills to the table, each player rejected offers to stay with the teams who drafted them* and people often make excuses when they lose based on the quality of their teammates.

* – Of course, Lebron might actually return to the Cleveland Cavaliers while the odds of Kovalchuk returning to the Atlanta Thrashers hover around zero percent.

James seems to have the NBA world at his fingertips, with plenty of options on where he’d like to land and whom he wishes to play with. Kovalchuk, on the other hand, seems like he’s in a cat-and-mouse game with the Los Angeles Kings being by far the most viable suitor outside of the KHL. While insiders point to market size, quality of teammates and perhaps even desirable climates when talking about factors in Lebron’s decision, many feel that money is the main sticking point for Kovalchuk and Kings GM Dean Lombardi.

Helene Elliott paints a not-so-promising picture regarding the Kings’ negotiations with the Russian left wing.

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They have the resources and cap space and face little competition for the two-time 50-goal scorer. But they didn’t reach an agreement Thursday and General Manager Dean Lombardi, through a team spokesman, declined to comment on the state of the talks.

Word from various corners of the hockey universe was that Kovalchuk is aiming high – think $10 million a year for 10 to 12 years – and the Kings are uncomfortable with that. The deal isn’t dead, but its pulse could be less than robust. The New Jersey Devils might be hovering, ready to remind Kovalchuk that travel in the East is less taxing on the body and worth taking a slightly lower payday.

It all comes down to priorities with Kovalchuk. He needs to answer some tough questions, such as “Do I really want to play in the NHL or just make the biggest impact possible on my bank account?” and “Can I accept the fact that playing for a contender often means taking less money?”

I’ve already written that Kovalchuk isn’t worthy of a big pay raise and I think the first day of contract talks reveals that to be a league-wide sentiment. There is no doubt that he’s talented and steadily put up big goal totals. Yet who is going to give a $100 million contract to a player who – either because of a lack of quality teammates, his own shortcomings or a combination of the two – never really won anything or even excelled on a big stage?

While Lebron James can keep his head in the clouds and continue to picture decadent dream sequences in which he gets to have his basketball cake and eat it too, Kovalchuk might want to keep his feet on the ground before visions of a big payday turn into a hockey nightmare.

  1. JoeJack - Jul 2, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    Hardball = baseball; roundball = basketball

  2. James O'Brien - Jul 2, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    I actually meant “hardwood” fans (a cutesy term for basketball fans) but decided to change it to the clearer basketball. Thanks.

  3. Matt Von Rohrbacher - Jul 2, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    Just an FYI. July 1st is actually Canada Day, not LeBron James day…

  4. Justin Von Boorheader - Jul 2, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    Noboy cared about Canada day.. Everyone cares about Lebron!

  5. M - Jul 2, 2010 at 9:10 PM

    Kovalchuk’s never won anything in the NHL because he was drafted to crappy Atlanta and the management would never get decent players to play on the team with him besides Hossa for a short time. So your statement that he doesn’t deserve a pay raise because he hasn’t won a Cup is incorrect in my opinion. There are too many hockey teams for every “great” player to win one by the time they’re thirty. Has Ovechkin won one, after all? I don’t see you questioning how much money he’s making and whether he deserves it.
    Kovalchuk doesn’t deserve a pay raise because no one can afford that – and people who put up the points he does get around 7.5-8.5 mil per year, which is what I’m assuming he will end up getting. He’s a talented player, he just doesn’t get pimped by the league like Crosby and Ovechkin do. And keep in mind those two players have great teammates, I’m not surprised how well they do every year. Stick them on Minnesota or Columbus and let’s see how they do though.

  6. Rhyno - Jul 8, 2010 at 11:31 AM

    Kovalchuk by far is one of the most explosive forwards in the league. He’s put the puck in the net more than anyone, besides Ovechkin, since the lockout. He’s been nothing but a major contributor. Any team would love to have him play for them. They just can’t afford him. Does he deserve the big pay day? Yes. In reality can it happen? No. That’s the problem. I watched a playoff game last night. It was Philly v.s New Jersey. He was amazing. Fast speed through the neutral zone, good hands, great on the powerplay, passed, took good shots, and was in the defensive zone covering his D-man. He did everything a coach could ask for. Get off his back, and show him some respect. He’s a great player, right under the likes of Ovechkin and Crosby. And just because he hasn’t won in the playoffs, it doesn;’t mean he hasn’t had success. He has 8 points in 9 games. That’s almost a point per game. And F.Y.I, the year Hossa played for the Thrashers, Kovalchuk got 52 goals. Hossa also led the league with points. The Thrashers made it to the playoffs that year….Give Kovalchuk someone good to play with and he’ll produce even more and most likely will find playoff success.

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