The Kings dropped out of the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes Sunday after the summer’s premier free agent rejected their latest offer, apparently unwilling to accept less than $10 million per season for 10 years.
“We took our best shot to meet his needs and the team’s,” Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi told The Times. Kovalchuk’s agent, Jay Grossman, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Kings were looking to Kovalchuk for much-needed scoring from the left wing and box-office sizzle. Lombardi wouldn’t say why the dynamic winger wouldn’t come to Los Angeles or discuss where Kovalchuk might land.
Kovalchuk, 27, risks pricing himself out of the market if he’s inflexible on his price because few NHL teams can afford to commit $100 million — even to a two-time 50-goal scorer. But the New York Islanders, who are about $9 million below the NHL’s salary floor, have acknowledged being interested in him and they’ve taken big gambles before: they signed goaltender Rick DiPietro to a 15-year, $67.5-million contract and gave center Alexei Yashin a 10-year, $87.5-million deal.
Kovalchuk might also return to the New Jersey Devils, who acquired him from Atlanta in February after he rejected offers from the Thrashers of $101 million over 12 years and $70 million over seven years.
Losing out on Kovalchuk leaves the Kings in a bind. They still need production from the wings and an experienced, top-four defenseman, but few free agents remain who could significantly help them.
They had anticipated being an attractive option for Kovalchuk and a top-tier defenseman following a season in which they made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and continued to develop an impressive core of youngsters. But like a few years ago, when they chased defenseman Zdeno Chara, and last summer, when winger Marian Hossa said no, they didn’t succeed.
The trade route is their primary option to pick up a productive winger and experienced, top-four defenseman. They could also sign a restricted free agent to an offer sheet — the Ducks’ Bobby Ryan immediately comes to mind — but the cost would be steep in draft picks and ill will around the league.