The Kings have again said no to signing free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, this time appearing to close the door and lock it behind them.
General Manager Dean Lombardi ended his initial pursuit of the two-time 50-goal scorer Sunday but was “re-engaged” by Kovalchuk’s agent, Jay Grossman. After crunching the numbers of a proposal sent Wednesday by Grossman, the Kings calculated they couldn’t sign Kovalchuk and have salary cap space to retain the young players who are becoming the franchise’s cornerstones.
“We really would love to add Kovi to our team, but not at the cost of our good young players,” Tim Leiweke, the Kings’ governor and chief executive of parent company AEG, said Wednesday night. “Dean is trying here, but we know what we need in cap space going forward to keep our nucleus together. We can’t let one guy throw us into panic in a year or two. It is not about cash. It is about cap.”
The value of each player’s contract is divided by the length to determine the average annual value, or cap hit. Teams often minimize the hit by paying a lot in the early years of a deal. The salary cap will be $59.4 million next season but could be slashed in the next collective bargaining agreement. The current labor deal expires after the 2011-12 season.
Attracted by Kovalchuk’s production and electrifying style, the Kings reportedly offered him $63 million over 12 years, an annual cap hit of $5.25 million, or $84.5 million over 13 years, an annual cap hit of $6.5 million.
Several sources familiar with the situation but not authorized to talk publicly said Kovalchuk hasn’t compromised on an average annual value of $10 million, close to the NHL-leading $9.538-million average Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin earns in a 13-year deal.
The Kings say they can’t accommodate Kovalchuk, retain their core and bring in the support players necessary to become a consistent Stanley Cup contender.
The contracts of defensemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson and winger Wayne Simmonds will expire after next season and they’ll get big raises. Next season Doughty, an Olympic gold medalist and finalist for the Norris trophy, will earn $3.475 million, Johnson $1.425 million and Simmonds $826,667.
Beyond that, Dustin Brown is signed through 2013-14 at $3.175 million a season and goaltender Jonathan Quick is signed through 2012-13 at $1.8 million per season. Jonathan Bernier, projected to battle Quick for the job, is signed through next season at $843,333.
Kovalchuk has few options: The New Jersey Devils reportedly offered $60 million over seven years but would have to first trade some players, or he could go to Russia and the KHL.
The Kings are now likely to go the trade route to get the winger and top-four defenseman they couldn’t snare through free agency. Their interest in Philadelphia Flyers left wing Simon Gagne appears to have diminished.