Much has been said about the quiet bidding war for Ilya Kovalchuk. We read of New Jersey refusing to surrender interest. Our general manager, Dean Lombardi, is no doubt trying to figure out what this very talented Russian wants. Now, we hear of the unwanted step children of the NHL, the New York Islanders, wanting to adopt Ilya into their own dysfunctional family with rumors of $10 million for 10 years flung about. Among all of this bidding and speculation, has anyone actually asked what Kovalchuk’s market value may be? Fortunately, at lakingsnews.com, we frequently ask the obvious and then search for the ever elusive answer.
What does it mean exactly?
It means that your house, if similar in size, age and upgrades, is probably worth at or about the same as that of your neighbor. In the world of the NHL, it means evaluating how much to pay a player necessarily involves comparing him to what other teams pay similarly inclined players. Is it that simple? Of course not. However, that is the critical starting point to this analysis.
Forgetting cap hit for a moment and just focusing on the salary, we have the following super star income, per annum:
Alexander Ovechkin: $9.0 million. Jumps to $10 million in 2014.
Sidney Crosby: $9.0 million. Jumps to $7.5 million just before he becomes an UFA in 2013.
Marion Hossa: $7.9 million.
Marion Gaborik: $7.5 million.
Rick Nash: $7.5 million though his contract is progressive and tops out at $8.2 in 2017-2018.
I don’t count the Sedins because they are a divided zygote and I can’t tell them apart so as far as I am concerned, they don’t exist.
What we have is a range of $2.5 million.
Nobody is at $10 million.
Nobody is below $7.5 million.
Is Ilya Kovalchuk at the same level as Alexander Ovechkin? Yes…and no. Ilya can put the puck in the net at the same rate. However, he does not bring Ovechkin’s consistent physical game. Do not confuse this statement with a conclusion that Ilya is soft. He is anything but. Unlike Alexander, he doesn’t look for hits, he doesn’t deliver them game in and game out and his game is not one bent on knocking teeth out.
Is Kovalchuk at the same level as Sidney Crosby? Same answer for different reasons. Both are equally physical. Kovalchuk is stronger but each delivers the same battle to the game. Sid, similar to Kovalchuk, doesn’t go around hitting people for pleasure like Ovechkin but he doesn’t shy away from the physical play. What sets Crosby apart from Ilya is Sid’s defensive game. We saw it in the Penguins v. Senators series this past playoffs. Crosby was smart in his own end, used his excellent stick handling and willingness to labor along the boards and come away with the puck. In contrast, defense is an aspect of the game little discussed within the same sentence as Ilya Kovalchuk and for good reason. That is not to say he doesn’t play it. That is to say we haven’t seen it with any degree of consistency.
That leaves Hossa, Gaborik and Nash. Let’s take the latter two. Nash is the protypical one dimensional offensive forward. He has gotten better but one essentially has a winger that rarely battles for the puck, hangs around in the no-contact zone of his own end and generally is looking for the puck to land on his stick before further effort is undertaken. Offensively, he is as talented as anyone though his game has suffered as of late. Compare him to Kovalchuk and Ilya wins this one hands down.
Gaborik, when he is healthy, is as good as any forward I have seen play the game. The problem is he is rarely healthy. He is as close to Kovalchuk talent wise as there is. He also possesses a decent defensive game which was a mandate under Jacque Lemaire for those many years in Minnesota. Gaborik and Kovalchuk are a draw in nearly every department except for the physical aspects of the game wherein Ilya has an edge.
That leaves us with Marion Hossa – the mother of all two way offensive forwards. Hossa is the elder statesman of this group. He is streaky and suffered from injuries this year but, when healthy, Marion is a delight to watch and is capable of playing a quietly stellar game. He is intelligent, a superb passer, has a rocket of a wrist shot, and is responsible in his own end. There are few more complete players in the league. Ironically, Kovalchuk and Hossa are difficult to compare because they are very different players and fill a different need on any team. Side by side, you give the all around game to Hossa and the offensive aspect to Ilya.
Guess where that puts Kovalchuk? Below Ovechkin and Crosby, above Nash and hanging around with Gaborik and Hossa. I therefore give you $7.5M to $7.9M “market” value.
Is that it? No. Certain types of players have a worth to a team that can’t be measured in statistics and on ice production. These include but are not limited to (1) leadership qualities off the ice, (2) character, (3) the ability to fit and play within the team’s system, and (4) the ability to make those around him better. Add to that the all important health of a player, his marketability (i.e, selling Kovalchuk’s star power in tickets and merchandise) as well as supply and demand at the time and you have a true market analysis. Realize that each team has likely factored the above into their respective stars’ contract – Ovechkin didn’t just receive $9.0 million because he could score goals and hit.
Do all of these considerations increase or decrease Kovalchuk’s market value?
That is the $7.5 to $10 million dollar question.