Category archive: Ilya Kovalchuk

At noon ET on Thursday, Ilya Kovalchuk's free-agent odyssey officially hit the seven-day mark.

Arguably the most valuable unrestricted free agent in NHL history -- especially when you account for age and talent (for years, the UFA minimum age was 32 and then 31) -- continues to remain unsigned as the second weekend of the open market approaches.

What gives?

The first red flag came in February when he turned down a pair of monster offers from the Atlanta Thrashers: $100 million over 12 years and $70 million over seven years. Kovalchuk and his agent Jay Grossman gambled that there would be a handful of teams willing to pay close to $10 million per season come July 1.

But several GMs, governors and agents told ESPN.com over the past few months that they didn't believe that any team would be willing to pay Kovalchuk $10 million a year. You can't pay anyone that amount of money and still expect to ice a competitive team around him under the salary cap. That's a popular sentiment around the league.

But perhaps more intriguing is this rumor making the circles among owners and team executives -- the league will fight for a lower salary cap (by changing the way the percentages are calculated in order to get a lower cap) in the next collective bargaining agreement two years from now (the players will likely be led into the next labor talks by the battled-tested Donald Fehr and will certainly have a say in that).

Whether the lower cap comes to fruition, the potential for it has clearly affected the way some teams are already thinking, including the Los Angeles Kings, the team with which Kovalchuk wants to sign.

Kings GM Dean Lombardi, who once again broke off talks with the Kovalchuk camp on Wednesday, is adamant that he needs a cap-friendly deal if he's going to take on Kovalchuk. He needs to be able to sign Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds and other youngsters over the next year or so, and he is also concerned about the next CBA and its impact. If the cap goes down by $10 million or so in the next CBA, how will teams handle their big salaries?

More to the point, I really do believe the Kings have watched, somewhat in horror, at how a wonderfully talented Chicago Blackhawks team has been dismantled this summer just weeks after winning the Stanley Cup. It's a situation the young-and-rising Kings want to avoid.

So, if Kovalchuk ever comes back to the Kings' table for a third time, he'll need to adjust his demands.

In the meantime, sources told ESPN.com on Thursday that other teams have called Grossman with one- and two-year offers, hoping to convince Kovalchuk to pull a Marian Hossa, a la Detroit in 2008-09. But a long-term deal is much more preferable since it would cover off part of the next CBA. You don't want to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2012 if a CBA hasn't been ironed out yet. Remember how quiet July 2004 was?

A long-term deal is what Kovalchuk really wants. But where? If the Kings remain out, the New Jersey Devils are the likeliest destination, although Devils GM Lou Lamoriello will spend the rest of the summer trying to move bodies if he signs Kovalchuk.

Then, there's the KHL. Evgeni Nabokov signed with SKA St. Petersburg on Wednesday, so if Kovalchuk were to also go there, the club would apparently pay a hefty luxury tax. It doesn't seem like a fit at this point, although ESPN.com did receive this e-mail Thursday in response to a query made Monday to KHL president and SKA owner Alexander Medvedev:

"Dear Mr. Lebrun, in reply to your message sent July 05 to Mr. Medvedev's e-mail address we once again on behalf of Mr. Medvedev confirm that yes, it is true: SKA has offered Ilya Kovalchuk a contract."

Regards,
Julia Kolomenskaya
Secretary to General director
Alexander Medvedev

In the end, everyone I've talked to around the league believes Kovalchuk really wants to be a Los Angeles King. This is where it will get interesting with Grossman and his client. Grossman has made a lot of money for his clients over the years, most notably Nikolai Khabibulin and most recently Anton Volchenkov. The dude knows how to get big contracts. But he's in a jam here. His client wants to play in L.A., and the Kings will not budge from their cap-friendly contract demands.

How will this all play out? Don't know, but can't wait to read the book one day.

Elsewhere on Thursday:

• The Philadelphia Flyers still hadn't announced the signing of Russian winger Nikolai Zherdev. The holdup, according to a source, is that the paperwork was still being finalized on both sides of the ocean and his official player transfer from the KHL to the NHL is in the process of being approved. Once it is, and it may not come until Friday, the Flyers will announce a one-year deal with Zherdev, who was an unrestricted free agent after his one-year deal with Atlant expired. He had 13 goals and 26 assists with Atlant this past season.

My colleague Darren Dreger of TSN tweeted Thursday that the Zherdev signing was being delayed until the Flyers could move Simon Gagne. Certainly plausible.

• Sticking with the Flyers/Gagne situation, he raised eyebrows Thursday when he told media in his native Quebec that contrary to reports out of Philadelphia last week, he has not agreed to waive his no-trade clause.

"I have a no-trade clause and I haven't removed it," Gagne said in French on RDS (the French sister network of TSN). "But certainly the Flyers have cap issues and I'm a player with one year left on my deal ... The next few days will maybe help us find out what's going to happen in my case."

It might just be semantics here. Once the Flyers go to Gagne with a trade, and it's a team he is OK with, he'll surely waive it. The Kings might have some interest if they determine once and for all they're not signing Kovalchuk. Gagne has one year left on his deal at $5.25 million.

I laugh every time. The most common question I get from nonhockey people at this time of year is, "So, are you off now for the summer?"

Yeah, I wish.

Nope, this is when it actually starts to get busy. Between trades at the NHL draft on June 25-26 in Los Angeles and the free-agency market opening July 1, many players will switch uniforms during the next month or so.

It's the NHL's crazy season.

Check my blog out every day during this period. I will try to find out what's going on, who's going where and why it happened.

We start today with the big dog, Ilya Kovalchuk. He is easily the headliner for an unrestricted free-agent class that isn't quite as deep in high-end talent as in recent years. All those restricted free agents signing long-term deals since the lockout are beginning to have an impact on the UFA list.

On the surface, Kovalchuk didn't help himself too much when his new team, the second-seeded New Jersey Devils, was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. (But he didn't play badly, putting up two goals and four assists in five games.)

I don't think the short postseason will have any impact on his market value. You know what you're getting in the 27-year-old Russian: a goal machine just entering his prime. He already has 338 goals in 621 career regular-season NHL games.

There is continued dialogue between the Devils and Kovalchuk's camp, but because the sniper has come this far, I think he wants to see what will be out there July 1. Can't blame him, not after he turned down $101 million over 12 years ($8.4 million average salary) and $70 million over seven years ($10 million average salary) from his former team in Atlanta before the trade deadline.

"It's an ongoing process," Jay Grossman, Kovalchuk's agent, told ESPN.com on Monday. "And obviously, Ilya and I have discussed it and continue to discuss it with respect to what we have to deal with up to July 1."

Grossman would not comment on the reports out of Russia, where KHL president Alexander Medvedev has made it clear he wants to bring the star winger back home. But Medvedev will also have to wait until July 1 for an answer from the Kovalchuk camp. The Russian winger wants to lay out all his options that day before making the biggest decision of his career.

Unless Kovalchuk gets lowballed on the NHL market July 1, which I doubt, I predict he stays in the NHL and politely turns down Medvedev's generosity.

I view the Los Angeles Kings as a prime landing spot for him. They have the cap space to accommodate his salary, they're a team on the rise, and there are people high up in the organization who view him as the missing piece in terms of star appeal.

A year ago, the rising Chicago Blackhawks added Marian Hossa to an already-stocked roster. This would be a similar move by a Kings team poised to take that next step toward Stanley Cup contention.

The thing is, I believe Kings GM Dean Lombardi also has an interest in Patrick Marleau should the veteran forward not re-sign in San Jose. (I think the Sharks want to keep Marleau if the money is right.)

One team you likely can rule out of the Kovalchuk sweepstakes is the deep-pocketed Toronto Maple Leafs.

"We're not going to be involved in that race," Leafs GM Brian Burke told ESPN.com on Monday when asked about Kovalchuk.

Toronto needs offense but will try to acquire a top-six forward via a trade of Tomas Kaberle. Burke reiterated Monday that he's not desperate to move the star defenseman but will continue to listen to offers as the draft approaches. The number of teams inquiring about Kaberle has reached double digits, but there are no serious offers at this point. That will change once we reach the draft.

Kaberle has one more season on a deal that pays him $4.25 million; that's incredibly cheap for a two-way, puck-moving blueliner of his caliber.

Speaking of star defensemen, the Penguins would like to keep their premier puck mover, 36-year-old Sergei Gonchar, who is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Pens GM Ray Shero and Gonchar's agent, J.P. Barry, have spoken a few times since Pittsburgh's season ended, including one lengthy session at the draft combine in Toronto, but there is still no deal.

"I've got every expectation that I will talk to Ray again pretty soon," Barry told ESPN.com on Monday. "We've had several meetings, and he wasn't able to commence negotiations until he got more certainty on the salary cap."

Shero needs to know exactly how much cap room he has before moving ahead on any big contract. The NHL will announce the 2010-11 cap figure June 30; it is expected to increase around $2 million from the current $56.8 million.

Term continues to be the big hurdle in the Gonchar talks. The 35-and-over rule in the collective bargaining agreement, one that stipulates that the entirety of the contract signed counts against a team's salary cap regardless of whether a player retires before the end of that deal, is making Pittsburgh wary about giving Gonchar more than one year. Gonchar's camp wants three years. Will two years be the compromise? We'll find out soon enough.