Okay Leafs Nation, knock it off with the Kovalchuk whining, alright?
Ilya Kovalchuk was never close to signing with Toronto. Get over it, okay? PLEASE???
Brian Burke is many things, including a gambler, but spreading $102 million over 17 years to lock down a talented but one-dimensional player in a contract that everyone knows he will never fulfill is not a gamble – it's a suicide pact.
Kovalchuk and the Devils are now bound together for the hockey equivalent of eternity.
There is no backing out. The Devils are now forced to make him gel with their team, and somehow turn him into a winner. Meanwhile, Kovalchuk has to produce, and continue producing, for a long time...if one side of this equation does not work out, things will get messy fast.
There is a short list of players that are in the same situation with their respective clubs...Alex Ovechkin, Rick Nash, Marian Hossa, Nick Backstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Mike Richards...three of these men wear the “C,” three are excellent two way forwards, Zetterberg and Hossa have won the Cup, Nash and Richards have won Olympic Gold, and this group's combined awards and trophies are too numerous to count.
What has Kovalchuk done to earn a spot alongside these players?
Well, Waddell slapped the “C” on him because no one else would take it...he won the Rocket Richard with a whopping 41 goals back in '04...and before this last season he had 4 playoff games to his name – all losses. At least this season he won a (single) game in April!
That said, I think it's safe to say that, right now, Kovalchuk in his prime is definitely worth $6 million, but definitely not worth $10 million. In other words, it is difficult to turn $6 million of cap space into 40-50 goals, but many clubs would expect more production from $10 million of cap space. Agreed?
So, if Kovalchuk will outperform or perform to his contract AT THIS POINT in his career, this begs the question: at what point will Kovalchuk fail to be worth $6 million?
Let's assume for the moment that Kovalchuk is actually a generational talent. How much will his production depreciate over the length of his new contract, and at what point will he become a potential cap problem?
In the first 7 years of his career, Kovalchuk put 297 goals up on the board and collected 557 points.
Let's compare his career stats with those of fellow Russians and generational talents...Alex Mogilny, Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Bure.
In their first 7 seasons, Mogilny scored 266 goals with 551 points, Pavel Bure scored 254 goals with 478 points, and Fedorov scored 242 goals with 592 points.
These are very similar numbers to what Kovalchuk has recorded to date. So let's see what would have happened if Mogilny/Bure/Fedorov had been signed to a Kovalchuk-esque deal after their 7th season.
Mogilny played 9 more seasons, recording 207 goals and 481 points, or an average of 23 goals and 53 points per season. Bure only played 5 more seasons, recording 183 goals and 301 points for an average of 36 goals and 60 points per season. Fedorov stuck around the longest, playing 12 more seasons and recording 241 goals and 587 points, but averaging very low at 20 goals and 48 points per season.
Although these players definitely showed flashes of brilliance in their later years, I think we can all agree that none of these players would have lived up to their contract, and furthermore, would be looked upon as severe cap problems in their final 2-3 seasons.
Imagine if the Leafs had signed Kovalchuk for 17 years and he averaged 20 goals and 48 points over a 12 year span...how disappointed would you, or in this case, your children be?
(*note* Now, I know what you might be thinking – Kovalchuk is playing in a different era than these Russian superstars of the past. While this is true, and the early numbers of Mogilny/Bure/Fedorov may be inflated, this segment of my analysis is about future potential for production after year #7...it will be interesting to see if the drop-off in scoring that can be seen in the 80's/90's Russians will prove even more dramatic for Kovalchuk because he will be playing through the day-to-day grind of the modern NHL, or less dramatic because the 80's/90's Russians finished their careers during the "dead-puck" era. I guess time will tell - until then, this is just speculation based on what we have already seen!)
Even if Kovalchuk's contract had been offered to some of the best players in NHL history, I believe that it would still be considered a terrible deal.
Peter Forsberg recorded 169 goals and 580 points in his first 7 seasons. In 5 seasons after that he only averaged 16 goals and 61 points. Steve Yzerman scored 291 goals and put up a whopping 692 points in his first 7 seasons. In his final 15 years he averaged 26 goals and 70 points. That's a little better.
In fact, only Wayne “fuckin'” Gretzky could make this deal smell like Roses.
Wayne put up 481 goals and 1337 points in his first 7 seasons...in his last 14 seasons his production was cut in half, but he still averaged 29 goals and 108 points. I don't think Kovalchuk will come anywhere near that...
Okay, so back to my question...again, at what point will Kovalchuk fail to be worth $6 million?
In his first 7 seasons, Kovalchuk scored an average of 42.2 goals and 79.5 points per season. Let's take the average of the goal/point rates from Bure, Mogilny, Fedorov, Forsberg and Yzerman over the span of their playing years following their 7th season...leaving Gretzky out for the sake of realism, this number comes to 24.2 goals and 58.4 points. Again, that is the average rate of production after season #7 of those 5 fantastic players combined.
Therefore, since Kovalchuk's numbers to date are similar to these players, if Kovalchuk's production decreased at the same rate as these generational talents, he should record 242 goals and 584 points over the next 10 years. If this depreciation happens gradually, Kovalchuk's career stats could look someting like this:
2010-11 G: 40 P:100
2011-12 G: 40 P: 90
2012-13 G: 30 P: 80
2013-14 G: 30 P: 70
2014-15 G: 30 P: 70
2015-16 G: 20 P: 50
2016-17 G: 20 P: 50
2017-18 G: 15 P: 29
2018-19 G: 10 P: 25
2019-20 G 7 P: 20
In 2015, with 12 years left on his deal, and Kovalchuk's production essentially cut in half, what kind of situation will the Devils find themselves in?
Feel free to poke holes in this argument as much as you want, but as a Leafs fan, I'm happy that Burke went fishing instead.