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Category: NHL free agency

Ilya Kovalchuk says he never thought he'd sign anywhere but New Jersey

Some interesting comments from Ilya Kovalchuk at a news conference Tuesday in Newark, N.J., where he signed a 17-year, $102-million contract to stay with the New Jersey Devils.

Kovalchuk turned down a 15-year, $80-million offer from the Kings and visited Los Angeles last week, which would indicate he was taking the Kings' proposal seriously. But asked Tuesday if he ever thought he'd sign with another team, he said, "Now, if I look back, no." Then why was he wasting his time and the Kings' time by engaging in a nearly three-week process, if not to use them as leverage to get a lifetime deal in New Jersey?

Also intriguing was General Manager Lou Lamoriello's comment about the lengthy deal. While quick to say it's legal under the collective bargaining agreement, he also said, "I would agree we shouldn't have these," and he hinted that the long-term commitment was made at the urging of owner Jeff Vanderbeek.

Here's the rest from Tom Gulitti, who does a great blog for the Bergen Record.

-- Helene Elliott

Kovalchuk's contract details and why Kings 'weren't in the ballpark'

A few more thoughts regarding Ilya Kovalchuk's decision to reject the Kings' 15-year, $80-million offer in favor of New Jersey's 17-year, $102-million contract:

It can't be a coincidence that the final number was $102 million. That makes it more--by $1 million--than the offer Kovalchuk turned down from Atlanta before the Thrashers traded him to New Jersey in February. He wanted Alexander Ovechkin-like numbers and no one thought he'd get $100 million in this league and with this economic climate. He not only got his numbers, he got more than the most lucrative previous offer.

Here's the contract structure, as first reported by Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and later verified by capgeek.com:

Kovalchuk, in his prime at 27, will earn $6 million in each of the first two seasons. But then he will earn $11.5 million each of the next FIVE seasons. Then his salary goes to $10.5 million for one year, followed by seasons of $8.5 million, $6.5 million, $3.5 million and $750,000. The last five seasons he's scheduled to be paid $550,000 each. He will be 40 then.

The Devils' offer was reported a while ago, by Larry Brooks of the New York Post, but the Kings didn't know the exact structure and were never sure the offer was legitimate.  They were willing to front-load their proposal but wouldn't go for that huge spike that the Devils incorporated; Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said his team was not even in the ballpark because of that structure.

Why is that structure so bad, when it still averages out to a $6-million annual cap hit? Because Drew Doughty's agent would use that as a jumping-off point in negotiations for the defenseman's next contract--and could make a good argument that Doughty is more valuable to the team and should be paid as much or more. And every other player's salary would be pulled upward--and a lot of players around the NHL have to be looking at this and smiling.

We'll sum this all up later at www.latimes.com/sports

--Helene Elliott

Dean Lombardi: Kings 'pushed the envelope' to pursue Kovalchuk and retain core players

Here's more from the conversation I had with Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi after free agent Ilya Kovalchuk announced he had chosen the Devils' 17-year, $102-million offer over the Kings' 15-year, $80-million offer.

There was a widespread perception in the hockey community that Tim Leiweke, the Kings' governor and chief executive of their parent company, AEG, wanted Kovalchuk here more than Lombardi did.

Kovalchuk would have added the electricity and what's-he-gonna-do-now element of wonder that pure scorers bring, and he might have helped raise the Kings' profile in the L.A. market. That's a valid consideration -- not the only one, but a valid one.

"I’m not going to respond to that," Lombardi said. "I think there’s a business side and a hockey side to everything and the key is to make it all mesh. There are relative degrees of ‘want.’ I’m not going to worry about that."

Lombardi did say he liked Kovalchuk "much better" after the Russian winger visited Los Angeles last Sunday night through midday Tuesday.

"You’re talking about an $80-million investment. We certainly did a lot of due diligence prior to the draft, spoke to contacts in hockey. Ultimately it’s looking him in the eye and seeing how he reacts to certain questions," Lombardi said.

"And so in terms of you’re only dealing with hearsay until you get to meet him, I was more impressed with him. I felt much better about him after I met him. I thought he held up. When you’re talking the investment we’re talking I don’t think softball questions are the order of the day. We walked away, I felt more comfortable in terms of what we were pursuing."

It was yet another pursuit that didn't end with the Kings getting the top-tier free agent they wanted.

"Obviously it’s been a grueling process but I think what we put out there was certainly respectable and pushed the envelope as far as meeting all those interests. If you go beyond that, you will pay someday in terms of this whole thing," Lombardi said, referring to his insistence on retaining cap space to keep core players and make some additions.

"With a cap everything has to fit. And particularly if you’re talking about a deal of this length. It’s got to work from all quarters. And that’s it. In the end your job is to put your best offer out there and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If you just compete with other offers you’re going to get yourself in trouble."

What now for the Kings?

Left wing Simon Gagne isn't an option anymore because he was traded to Tampa Bay. Could center/winger Patrick Sharp, who had 22 points in 22 playoff games during Chicago's Stanley Cup run, be in their plans? It's an intriguing idea because the Blackhawks must shed salary to get under the cap and he has had four consecutive seasons of 20 goals or more.

Lombardi wouldn't be specific on who he's looking at.

"We’ll see. The thing you don’t do is panic and go out and grab somebody," he said. "As far as I’m concerned we’re still right on schedule. We talked about being a couple players away — somebody else will come up. It will be there eventually.

"The interesting thing about this for me is what I felt in my gut when I talked about the kids would start to take over the room, I would have expected it to happen this coming year and I saw it start to happen last year and thought, ‘Boy, these kids are coming quicker than I thought.’  Which allows me in my own mind to think OK, let’s accelerate this process.

"I think that core is coming together quicker than I thought. You use free agency when you already have that core and your culture is established. It happened a little quicker. So here’s a player of that caliber who has attributes that are attractive and we decided to push it along quicker. And so as far as I’m concerned we’re still ahead of where I thought that core in that room would be and we’re just not going to be able to push it quicker than we thought. I see some of those kids down there, they’re going to push for jobs and I have no doubt about their character.

"In the meantime we’ll see. Whenever you go through a process like this as an organization, it’s never a waste when you grind it out like this because the next time you’ll be better equipped to do the process even better. It’s not only what you do, it’s how you do things, and this has been an incredible grind but if you step back, you learn from it, we’re going to be even better the next time when the next one comes around. Quite frankly I think our team will be even more solidified in terms of that core.

"The disappointment mostly comes from all the work that goes into it. In the end we can still benefit from it as an organization.  We’re not a team that has to do this because our window is close. If your window is closing or you’ve got a top guy that’s got a year left, or whatever, then that’s different. That is not our issue. Our window is not closing. Not at all."

He said some of the Kings' prospects like left wing Kyle Clifford will be given chances to win jobs, and look for Brayden Schenn to get a chance to win the second-line center role.

"We’ve got some other options too. At some of the positions some of the kids may need to step up or we may need to open up our marketplace. Something eventually will come up if we just stick with it and go back to what we do."

--Helene Elliott 

Kings' Lombardi: 'I don't think it's any surprise' Devils won Kovalchuk

Ilya Kovalchuk’s deal with the Devils, according to initial news reports, could be worth as much as $150 million over the 17-year life of the deal — it will end when he’s 44 — but other reports put the value at closer to $100 million.

It’s believed the Kings’ offer was around $80 million for 15 years. They said they wouldn’t go to $100 million because they want to retain salary cap space to re-sign stellar defenseman Drew Doughty, who can become a restricted free agent July 1, as well as to retain Jack Johnson and Wayne Simmonds while also adding pieces to upgrade their offense.

Here's the announcement from Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman.

Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said he learned of Kovalchuk’s decision about 9:30 a.m. PDT.

“We left our best offer out there on Thursday and it was a yes or no. There wasn’t really that much to talk about,” he said.

Asked if he felt the Kings had a legitimate chance to sign Kovalchuk or or if Grossman merely used the Kings to get a better offer from New Jersey, Lombardi said it would be impossible to know “until years later.”

He added, “I don’t think it’s any surprise that it’s New Jersey. I think we were genuinely in it. But as far as saying being used, quite frankly that’s the agent’s job, whether you want to call it being used or building leverage for his client. That’s his job by definition. At times you get upset about it but that’s the reality. That’s his job, to build up as much leverage as possible and get as much as he can for his client.”

And Kovalchuk got a lot — more than the Kings felt comfortable paying.

“The job is to put the best deal you can out there that works in all quarters,” Lombardi said, adding that he factored in the team’s ability to generate revenues, how a front-loaded contract would affect his ability to re-sign Doughty and the impact Kovalchuk would have in the locker room.

“In the end if you just say you’ve got to have him and pay whatever it takes, you’re wrought with pitfalls. Your job is to work through it and put your best offer out there. If it don’t work, it don’t work. Somebody else will come along.”

It won’t be Simon Gagne: the Flyers traded him to Tampa Bay for defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round draft pick.

More to come soon.

--Helene Elliott
 

Ilya Kovalchuk spurns Kings, signs with Devils

 Kovalchuk_640
Ilya Kovalchuk has turned down offers from the Kings and has agreed to stay with the New Jersey Devils, yet another premier free agent who has gotten away from the Kings.

They had avidly pursued the two-time 50-goal scorer and had him come out to Los Angeles for a visit last weekend. However, his agent, Jay Grossman, and the Devils announced Monday that he would re-sign with the Devils, who acquired him from Atlanta in a trade in February.

The Kings hadn't signed any other free agents while they wooed Kovalchuk, so they're going to have to get active via the trade route to add the scoring wingers and defenseman that General Manager Dean Lombardi had wanted.

Initial reports said the terms of Kovalchuk's deal were 17 years at $100 million, though that couldn't be immediately confirmed. Tim Leiweke, the Kings' governor and chief executive of their parent company, AEG, said in an e-mail that Kovalchuk "had two very good choices. NJ offered more money. Simple as that."

"We threw everything at him we had while leaving the cap space necessary to sign our kids. He is a great player and I am disappointed he didn't come to LA. It was not for lack of effort or cash."

More later at www.latimes.com/sports

-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils celebrates his first-period power-play goal against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 20. Credit: Len Redkoles / NHLI via Getty Images

Kovalchuk and Kings inching closer, but there's no deal yet

Another day, another flurry of Ilya Kovalchuk rumors.

Friday’s spiciest speculation had him agreeing to a contract with the Kings -- which turned out to be false — while other reports said he’s close to an agreement, which seems far more likely.

One source familiar with the discussions said he’s 98% sure it will get done and that Kovalchuk will be a King. But in a process as bizarre as this one has been at every step, and with neither Kovalchuk’s agent nor  Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi  willing to comment, that 2% is too much wiggle room.

Among the issues they’re believed to be working on: payment for the 2012-13 season, a season that could be lost to a lockout, and whether the deal will include a no-trade or no-movement clause. And if there is a clause that allows him to veto a trade or specify a number of teams he’d agree to join in a trade, the two sides will have to agree on when it would kick in.

The 2012-13 issue is a real concern to players and teams. If there’s no season, players wouldn’t get paid — but any pre-agreed signing bonuses would have to be paid. Teams don’t want to pay anything if there’s no season, but players want bonuses — or, in a worst-case scenario, to lose as little salary as possible.

The seven-year extension the Minnesota Wild gave center Mikko Koivu  will take effect in the 2011-12 season and is structured to help both sides in the event of a canceled season. He will earn $7.29 million in salary and a $1.89-million installment of his signing bonus in 2011-12 but in 2012-13 he’s scheduled to earn only $5.40 million and get no bonus. He goes back to earning $7.29 million and a $1.89-million bonus payment in 2013-14, and there’s a double bonus payment of $3.780 million in the final season, 2017-18, along with a salary of $9.180 million.

The total value of Koivu’s deal is $47.25 million over seven seasons, a cap hit of $6.75 million per season. That's almost certainly higher than the Kings’ cap hit will be for Kovalchuk, a two-time 50-goal scorer, an oddity given that Koivu -- who was the sixth pick in the 2001 draft, five spots after Kovalchuk -- has never scored more than 22 goals or 71 points in a season. Michael Russo, who covers the Wild for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, makes the casethat Koivu’s value goes beyond pure statistics because he's a two-way player and a franchise cornerstone, and it makes for some interesting reading.

Koivu also got a no-trade clause, which Kovalchuk is likely to want.

And so we wait, and wait . . .

--Helene Elliott
 

Kings announce shortened Fan Fest, nothing on Kovalchuk

Despite the success last summer of the Kings' first Hockey Fest, a three-day event that included interactive games, panel discussions and autograph sessions with players and alumni, the Kings have cut this year's event to one day and have moved it from the LA Live complex downtown to their practice facility in El Segundo.

Kingslogo The second Hockey Fest will be held Sept. 11 at the Toyota Sports Center from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets went on sale today at a cost of $15 for season ticket holders, partial plan participants and group leaders and at $20 for the general public. The $20 tickets can be purchased at www.lakings.com/hockeyfest2010. Only 2,000 tickets will be available for purchase.

It will again include question-and-answer and autograph sessions and will have team merchandise on sale, some of it discounted 40%, the Kings said in a news release.

But why shorten an event that seemed popular last year? Why not keep it the same or expand it?

Chris McGowan, the Kings' senior vice president of business operations and chief marketing officer, said it's a matter of balancing the number of off-season events so there aren't too many or too few. Having the NHL entry draft at Staples Center last month was a major undertaking for the Kings and a major event for fans, he said.

"With hosting the entry draft in June we felt it was best to have a one-day hockey fest this summer," he said. "Next season, Kings fans can look forward to us hosting a two-day fest that will fall on a Saturday and Sunday."

Since the event will take place on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Kings' charitable arm, the Kings Care Foundation, will host fundraising activities to benefit local organizations affected by the attacks.

The natural question is whether Ilya Kovalchuk will attend the Hockey Fest as a member of the Kings. If he has made a decision by then, of course.

There appears to be no major movement on that front. The Kings are still working on reaching an agreement with the free-agent left wing, several sources said, but Kovalchuk appears willing to continue to take his time. It's likely he's playing the Kings' last offer off against whatever the New Jersey Devils are willing to pay. Going home to Russia to play in the KHL seems a less likely option for him even though he might be able to get his magical $10 million per season there.

We'll keep you posted. 

--Helene Elliott

Lots of talk but nothing to announce yet on Kovalchuk

Kovalchuk_300 Another day has passed with lots of speculation but no official word about where Ilya Kovalchuk (pictured at left) will end up or when he will decide where he will play next season.

Thursday will mark the two-week point since the start of free agency and 10 days since Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, last made a public comment. Grossman said July 5 that the high-scoring left wing's choices had "been narrowed down," with "details to be finalized," but that proved way premature.

Kovalchuk's visit to Los Angeles for face-to-face meetings with the Kings went well by all accounts. He arrived Sunday night and left Tuesday afternoon; Grossman stayed for more talks with Kings executives and took a red-eye flight back East.

Tom Gullitti of the Bergen Record in New Jersey said via Twitter on Wednesday that the Devils are still interested in Kovalchuk, but he echoed my thoughts in doubting that the Devils have made a 17-year, $100-million offer, as has been rumored.

 And so for now we all wait until Kovalchuk makes up his mind. Once he does, it's likely a flurry of trades will result: If the Kings don't get Kovalchuk they'll still have to find a scoring winger and they still want a defenseman after missing out on the top free-agent defensemen. If the Devils get Kovalchuk they'll have to move some players to carve out salary cap space. The Flyers and Canucks are over the salary cap limit--teams can be 10% over during the summer--and several other teams are close to the cap.

A few other notes: Pierre LeBrun at espn.com wrote that the Flyers have given Simon Gagne's agent permission to talk to other teams. He is a possibility for the Kings, but he's expensive for one year--$5.25 million--and has a worrisome history of concussions.

Also, the executive committee of the NHL Players' Assn. ended two days of meetings in Toronto without choosing a new leader. Don Fehr, former head of the Major League Baseball Players' Assn.,remains a favored candidate but he will be 62 soon and reportedly doesn't want the job on a long-term basis. But he might agree to lead the union through negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement. The current labor deal expires in 2012.

--Helene Elliott

Photo credit: Gregory Smith / Associated Press

Ilya Kovalchuk departs without a deal ... but it ain't over till it's over

Ilya Kovalchuk, who came to Los Angeles on Sunday for face-to-face meetings with Kings executives, left Tuesday afternoon without a new contract. His agent, Jay Grossman, stayed behind for more talks with General Manager Dean Lombardi but left Tuesday night, also without reaching agreement on a long-term deal.

Kovalchuk met Coach Terry Murray as well as Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene on Monday while touring the team's El Segundo practice facility. Brown and Stoll said they came away impressed with Kovalchuk and there's no reason to believe he flunked the interview part of the process while talking to members of the Kings' hockey operations staff. They wanted to look him in the eye before they made this considerable investment, and that's only logical and sensible. They apparently were not scared off by what they saw or heard.

The fact that Kovalchuk left town seems to indicate he and the Kings aren't near an agreement: if they were, he would have stayed here for a news conference. But planes (especially private jets) go back and forth often between California and Florida, where Kovalchuk lives in the off-season. So he could come back West on short notice.

Or this can drag on, which is more likely.

Various rumors Tuesday had the talks breaking off completely -- perhaps based on Kovalchuk's departure -- while others said the negotiations were progressing. No one from the Kings would say.

Where it goes from here is anyone's guess, but it's likely Grossman will try to use the Kings' interest as a bargaining chip and go back to the New Jersey Devils, who are believed to be the only other NHL team willing to give Kovalchuk more than a one- or two-year deal. The Devils reportedly made a 17-year, $100-million offer but that has never been confirmed and those numbers are wildly inconsistent with any deal that Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has negotiated in the past.

So Kovalchuk remains on the market nearly two weeks into free agency, which is partly his own fault and partly the fault of market forces.

Kovalchuk and his agent began by asking for $100 million over 10 years, figuring that a two-time 50-goal scorer who is only 27  could easily command that number. They picked a year when a lot of teams are cash-poor and many others are at or near the salary cap and simply can't spend that kind of money.

The Kings have the money and about $17 million in space under next season's $59.4-million cap but they're looking long-term. They want to retain their core players, re-sign Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson before the two defensemen become restricted free agents next July 1, and add the defenseman (and other parts) they need to reach the next competitive level. All of that adds up quickly.

They're also factoring in the strong possibility that the salary cap will go down in the next labor agreement. The current  agreement ends after the 2011-12 season and general managers are being cautious now about taking on deals with high average annual values for fear they won't be able to afford those deals under a cap of $48 million. 

It appears the next move is up to Kovalchuk and Grossman. If the Devils' $100-million offer is real and all they're after is money, they should take it. They won't get $100 million from the Kings. But the Devils are aging and aren't likely to contend for the Stanley Cup soon, while the Kings are on the rise and could reach elite status sooner with a pure sniper like Kovalchuk playing the role of gamebreaker.

Lombardi didn't get the established, mobile defenseman he wanted in free agency and now will likely have to go the trade route. If he doesn't get Kovalchuk he will have to find another winger. An experienced second-line center is also on his wish list but would be tough to acquire.

Either way, the Kings need this to end soon so they can get on with the rest of their summer and their lives.

--Helene Elliott

Kovalchuk coming to L.A. for face-to-face talks with Kings

Free-agent left wing Ilya Kovalchuk has accepted the Kings' invitation to visit Southern California, where they hope to sell him on the virtues of living and playing here -- and of compromising at the bargaining table to reach a deal that's workable for both sides.

The two-time 50-goal scorer was due to arrive in Los Angeles on Sunday night and is scheduled to meet Monday with General Manager Dean Lombardi and other Kings executives. However, Lombardi emphatically denied a report from Sportsnet's Daren Millard that the Kings and Kovalchuk have agreed on contract terms and that an announcement of his signing would be made Monday.

"He is coming for a visit," Lombardi said of Kovalchuk. "It is a great opportunity for him to meet us and us to meet him. Reports of us signing him are utterly false."

Millard had said earlier Sunday via his Twitter account that "Kovy-gate comes 2 an end tomorrow. Kings win the process. Don't want announcment 2 get overshadowed by WC."

Lombardi and the Kings had been conducting their negotiations with Kovalchuk's New York-based agent, Jay Grossman, and had not talked to Kovalchuk, who has a home in Fisher Island, Fla.

However, Lombardi will now have a chance to woo the Russian left wing in person, perhaps show him around the South Bay communities where players live, and sell him on the pluses of living and playing here. Grossman did not return an e-mail requesting comment.

Recognizing that Kovalchuk would be a good fit on a young and rising team, the Kings approached Grossman as soon as the July 1 free agency period began. They talked for a few days before breaking off; that happened again, as Kovalchuk apparently remained set on a $10-million annual salary and a $100-million deal.

But Kovalchuk appears to have no other solid offers. That might leave him more willing to bend on the length of the deal and the money to a point where the Kings are comfortable that they can sign him and still have enough salary cap space to retain their core young players, add solid support players and build a perennial Stanley Cup contender.

The Kings reportedly have offered two deals: 12 years at $63 million and 13 years at $84.5 million. Kovalchuk turned those down because he wanted and Alexander Ovechkin-like $10 million per season. It's believed his agent also asked for a low salary and high signing bonus to be paid in the 2012-13 season -- the season that could be lost to a lockout if the NHL and the NHL Players' Assn. can't agree on a new labor deal. Salaries would not be paid during a lockout but signing bonuses would have to be paid.

With no other NHL team willing to give Kovalchuk a contract for more than a year or two and Russia's KHL his least-favored option, the 27-year-old left wing's options appear limited. The Kings hope they can soon clinch the deal with terms they consider reasonable, maybe eight or nine years for about $8 million per year.

--Helene Elliott

All quiet for now on Kings' side of Kovalchuk situation

No movement today regarding Ilya Kovalchuk, who certainly appears to have overplayed his hand if he's still looking for a $10-million annual salary and/or $100-million contract.

Kingslogo A Kings source said Thursday there had been "not a peep" on the Kovalchuk front, but that can change. Probably not today, though, while the LeBron James circus dominates sports coverage.

The always interesting Pierre LeBrun offers his take at ESPN.com on what could happen next from Kovalchuk's point of view.

If you've lost track of this winding, week-old odyssey, the Kings dropped out of contention  Tuesday but were "re-engaged," according to General Manager Dean Lombardi. They got a new proposal from Kovalchuk's side Wednesday but it showed little or no compromise.

Incidentally, for those interested in what's happening with winger Alexander Frolov, who was not offered a contract by the Kings and became an unrestricted free agent, he's still available. His agent, Don Meehan, said he hasn't had any talks with the Kings yet. Maybe the "yet" leaves some wiggle room....


-- Helene Elliott

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