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.