The ridiculous Ilya Kovalchuk back-and-forth is approaching LeBron James proportions. You half expect an hour-long interview ending in "I’m taking my talents to Long Island."
At least that’s what the New York Islanders would like to hear when it comes to where Kovalchuck will sign.
To be fair, it’s a bit excessive to compare the hockey saga to LeBron’s decision — that is a feat that will be impossible to top — but to say that Kovalchuk has not had an effect on the entire NHL free-agent market is ignoring the matter altogether.
The Russian sniper’s indecision has now reached its 15th day, and the list of possible destinations has grown and shrunk more times than can be counted. Once on that list, and perhaps still a secret sleeper, are the lowly Islanders.
They made some waves a few weeks ago when it leaked that they were jumping in on the Kovalchuk sweepstakes. The Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils, the previous favorites, were suddenly scrambling to handle what looked like a serious new contender.
"I've made maybe a hundred calls and explored options," Isles GM Garth Snow told Newsday when asked about his interest in the Russian. "Maybe it doesn't come to fruition, but I'm not doing my job if I don't make those calls."
According to several media outlets, Snow was ready to offer the coveted free agent $10 million over 10 years.
Then, just as quickly as they entered, the Isles walked away.
Two weeks later, there is still no clear indication of where Kovalchuk will land. The Kings have dropped in and out of the race so many times it’s near comical.
But Islanders fans, though slightly disappointed, may be breathing a sigh of relief.
Sure, Long Island will miss out on a premier free agent. Again. But was Kovalchuk the answer to saving hockey on Long Island? Upon closer examination, probably not.
For starters, despite having a hard time getting to the cap floor, the Islanders can’t afford to throw money around, so there was little surprise when their interest died once Kovalchuk started demanding more money and additional years.
Second, even though the Isles lack wings, Kovalchuk does not necessarily fit the team. The Islanders are still rebuilding. While they’re not at rock bottom like Edmonton, they’re also not on the rise like Los Angeles. The Isles have quickly established a good young core centered around 2009 first overall pick John Taveres. They can’t afford to handcuff themselves to a player who may deliver stats-wise and get people in the seats but could limit future options.
If Kovalchuk signed with Islanders, his cap hit would be greater than either Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby’s. Is Kovalchuk that kind of player?
The Islanders already are heavy on long-term contracts with players like Rick DiPietro, who has a hard time staying on the ice as it is.
Lastly, the Islanders need a new arena. Kovalchuk may draw gate traffic, but he probably isn’t going to save the Lighthouse Project anytime soon. If you have to create a list of the things that will revive hockey in the area, the top two priorities would be drafting well and making the playoffs.
Kovalchuk is flashy, but he does not guarantee success to a team. He is more the final piece to a puzzle the Islanders have not completed.
So as the Kovalchuk saga continues and the Kings look to be the front-runner again, maybe fans on Long Island should be glad they won’t factor into this decision.
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