The Kings, who became “reengaged” in talks with free-agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk on Tuesday, according to General Manager Dean Lombardi, have received a proposal from Kovalchuk’s agent, Jay Grossman.
However, the proposed deal is so complex — and the ramifications so big from the Kings’ perspective — that they are not expected to respond for at least a day and possibly longer.
The Kings dropped out of the hunt Sunday, after Kovalchuk’s representative did not submit a counteroffer to the Kings’ initial proposals. Kovalchuk’s only other confirmed NHL suitor has been the New Jersey Devils, but they would have to clear substantial salary cap space to sign him, and they have not made any transactions that would allow them to sign the 27-year-old left wing.
The KHL in Kovalchuk’s native Russia appears to be his other option. The money there is big and tax-free, but he obviously couldn’t win the Stanley Cup there — if that, indeed, means more to him than a big payday.
After telling The Times on Wednesday morning that the Kings were again in the mix, Lombardi declined to comment further. Grossman would not comment at all.
The New York Post reported this week that the Devils were offering Kovalchuk a seven-year, $60-million deal. The Kings were rumored to have offered more money over a longer term to keep the average annual value of the deal down, but that could not be confirmed.
The Kings’ reasons for dropping out of the Kovalchuk sweepstakes Sunday remain valid: They want to ensure that they can retain Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and other core players. Doughty and Johnson can become restricted free agents after next season and Doughty, coming off a season in which he won an Olympic gold medal and was a finalist for the Norris Trophy (awarded to the league’s top defenseman), will command megabucks. The Kings, if they’re serious about contending for the Cup, will have to pay him.
Lombardi must also factor in the possibility that the salary cap will decrease under a new collective bargaining agreement and that giving Kovalchuk a salary that would create a large cap hit will impede the Kings’ ability to keep their core players. The current labor deal between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Assn. expires after the 2011-12 season and owners could push to lower the cap, which will stand at $59.4 million next season.