Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What a Kovaltastrophe

By the GTOG Staff

Tonight on "The Bachelorette," Frank explains that his feelings for Ali are real, and they are strong. Yet somehow, through the course of his "journey," it occurs to him that he may still be in love with his ex-girlfriend. "I have to go to Chicago," he reasons, "to find out if I'm still in love with Nicole." Cut to Frank walking through the streets of Chicago, in search of Nicole. Cut to Frank walking into Nicole's apartment building and knocking on her door. "What is going on?" Nicole asks upon opening said door, except you get the impression she knows precisely what is going on, due to the fact that she doesn't seem fazed by all the large television cameras following Frank. Moments later, on Nicole's couch, Frank's walls come down. "I need to know if we still have that spark," he says. "You complete me," she replies, and GTOG is not even kidding. "Come home." Frank nods and begins caressing her arms and shinbone. "Now I need to go to Tahiti," he intones, "to tell Ali. This will take a lot of courage and strength."

You can predict what Ali's reaction was to this news...

...but somehow, this exchange was only the second most ridiculous thing that happened today. The first, by far, was the Devils re-signing LW Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year contract worth a total of $102 million (an annual cap hit of $6 million). NHL.com does a nice job breaking down Kovalchuk's career numbers, but let's look at some of the "highlights" after the jump...

  • Career playoff record: 1-8. As terrible as that is, it is actually somewhat misleading because the only win came with New Jersey this past season, a team that was guaranteed to be going to the playoffs even before it traded for Kovalchuk at the deadline. So, throwing away his 1-4 last season with the Devils (2g, 4a, +/-E), Kovalchuk's career playoff record is 0-4 courtesy of a 4-game sweep by the New York Rangers in 2006-07. In that series, Kovalchuk had one goal, one assist, a -2 rating, and 19 penalty minutes. In sum, Kovalchuk has been in the league for 8 seasons and has 8 career playoff points.
  • Kovalchuk's career best plus/minus in a full-season? A minus-2 in 2006-07, the only season prior to last year with NJ that he has ever made the playoffs. We guess it's only fair to point out that he was a +9 in 27 games with the Devils last year, although we should mention that essentially the entire Devils' roster was a plus last year.
  • Career high in points: 98 (52g, 46a) in 2005-06. That certainly isn't a bad season, but let us not forget that 2005-06 was the first season back from the lockout when the game opened up significantly. The average goals/game was 6.17 in 05-06, up from a modern-era record low of 5.14 in pre-lockout 2003-04. Refs were calling penalties like crazy and Kovalchuk responded with 27 PP goals. Oh yeah, and this was the same season Jonathon Cheechoo scored 56 goals. The takeaway, 52 goals and 98 points is nice, but let's take it with a grain of salt.  And let's remember that it only happened once.
What this tells us is that Kovalchuk is a nice player, but that's all he is. He was the feature guy on his team for 7 years and led that team to exactly 0 playoff wins. His best season came in what is by every measure an aberration season. He is a one-dimensional player who does one thing well - score power play goals. Unfortunately for Kovalchuk, there are less penalties called in the playoffs (although he may not know that given how rarely he gets there).

Kovalchuk's game is based on three things: his size, his speed, and his shot. He will always have his size (230 pounds). But what happens when the speed and the shot slow down? What happens when his release is just a little bit slower? The key to being successful as an older player is guile - you have to rely on knowing how to play hockey rather than rely on your superior talents because talent is fleeting. At this point in his career, there is no indication that Kovalchuk will ever be able to adjust his game. He has consistently been a minus player and he has never topped 50 assists.  He is Alex Ovechkin, only 70% as good.

The Devils made an enormous commitment to Kovalchuk, but the cap hit is reasonable on its face. You can pay $6 million a year for a consistent 40-50 goal scorer. We won't argue with that, even if we wouldn't pay that kind of money for this particular guy. Of course, the 17 year deal is the latest to make a mockery of the current collective bargaining agreement. Once Kovalchuk retires, there are no more cap implications for the Devils. He gets most of his money in the first 8 years of the deal, New Jersey keeps some roster flexibility, and ostensibly, everybody wins. But this manipulation of the system is going to backfire. It's going to be a Rick DiPietro-level calamity. In four years, Kovalchuk is going to be an overweight albatross hanging from Lou Lamoriello's neck with 13 years remaining on his contract. And he won't retire. He'll come back year after year. After year. After year. After year.

Despite the obvious long-term problems we think this will cause, it may help the Devils in the short-term. They are clearly trying to win before Brodeur retires and Kovalchuk certainly gives them a better chance than if they didn't have him. And, when Brodeur's salary is off the books it will make Kovalchuk's $6 million hit even easier to swallow. Kovalchuk can score goals and the Devils need that.

But, before anyone goes handing the Wales Conference title to the Devils just yet, let's remember that Kovalchuk is a one-dimensional player who has failed in big moments and has failed at even getting himself to big moments. Although, there is one exception according to Dmitry Chesnokov at Puck Daddy:
Kovalchuk won the World Junior Championships (who could forget his fist pump before he scored the empty netter against Canada in the final?).
You know who can forget that? GTOG. We didn't even know it happened. It's called "Juniors" for a reason.


  1. I think it's really unfair to harp on Kovy's plus-minus. What do you think Mario Lemieux's plus-minues was in the first 5 or 6 years of his career? He'll easily turn that number around on a team with some talent like the Devils.

  2. GTOG doesn't need to think about Mario Lemieux's plus-minus statistics, because GTOG knows Mario Lemieux's plus-minus statistics. And Mario was a plus for some poor Penguin teams.

    1984-85 -35
    1985-86 -6
    1986-87 +13
    1987-88 +23
    1988-89 +41

    In 1992-93, Lemieux won the league plus-minus award with a staggering +55.

  3. Kovy scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in the 2008 World Championships against Canada (which is a bit more relevant than anything he did in Juniors). He can play in the big moments. He just didn't have too many of those in Atlanta, and that's as much a fault of the embarrassment that is the ASG, Teflon Don and average talent around Kovy as anything else.

  4. So what is your evidence that Kovalchuk will be an albatross in 4 years? I missed the evidence, was it the consistent 40-50 goal scorer, was it the $6MM Cap Hit?
    Seems to me you spend too much time watching "Reality TV" and referring to your entity in the 3rd person and not enough time watching or knowing hockey, World Jr's or otherwise.

  5. As discussed, GTOG thinks the real question is where is the evidence that Kovalchuk won't be an albatross in 4 years? But again, if NJ wants to pay $6 million a year to a fat, 31-year-old 35-goal scorer, GTOG won't complain. And remember, GTOG only watches reality tv because our readership demands it.

  6. I agree with the post's basic premise that Kovalchuk is an overrated player. Maybe he is worth $6 million now, but will be be worth $6 million in a few years? Probably not. What forwards over 30 in this league are worth $6 million?

    He helps the Devils for the next few seasons, but as long as Brodeur continues to fail in the playoffs, it won't matter.

  7. Derek Boogard aside, this was the most ridiculous contract of this free agency.