The Kings found themselves out of the Ilya Kovalchuk
sweepstakes again almost as quickly as they had re-entered talks on Wednesday.
By the close of business that day, Los Angeles said "thanks, but no thanks" to the high-scoring Russian. Kovalchuk's agent had "re-engaged," in the words of GM Dean Lombardi, the Kings with a counter proposal Wednesday afternoon. The Kings had walked away from the negotiating table almost 72 hours earlier.
But, after team management crunched the numbers in the new proposal, the harsh reality that they would have to pass on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity -- for the final time, likely -- became apparent.
In their opinion, the Kings could not sign the two-time, 50-goal scorer to a long-term deal and still leave open cap space to retain the young players counted upon to be the franchise cornerstone's in Lombardi's vision of the future.
"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, told Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times. "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."
According to Elliott, the Kings reportedly offered him $63 million across 12 years, an annual cap hit of $5.25 million, or $84.5 million across 13 years, an annual cap hit of $6.5 million.
It is believed that Kovalchuk is looking for a deal that will pay him close to $10 million annually.
With the contracts of franchise defensemen Drew Doughty
and Jack Johnson
expiring next year, Los Angeles felt it was handcuffed in what it could offer Kovalchuk while maintaining the flexibility to get two of the game's best young defensemen under contract.
Now, the free-agent ball seems to be back in the court of the New Jersey Devils
, the team who traded for the Russian at last season's trade deadline.
The Devils reportedly have offered Kovalchuk $60 million in a seven-year deal. It is believed that they would have to move some salary to get that deal under the cap, however.
There are also several reports that Russian club SKA St. Petersburg has made an offer for Kovalchuk. SKA signed former NHL goalie Evgeni Nabokov
to a long-tern deal on Wednesday.
--Shawn P. Roarke