The Ilya Kovalchuk saga is over, and in the end he isn’t going anywhere. Kovalchuk has re-signed with the New Jersey Devils, who traded for him last season after spending his entire career in Atlanta. However, the big news here is the length of the contract. Kovalchuk’s deal is for 17 years.
Details on the cash are not known yet, but there are reports that it will be a $102 million deal, only one million more than the Atlanta Thrashers offered him before trading him away. The only difference is this is over five more years than that deal… if Kovalchuk can even play for that long.
All in all, a 17-year deal is kind of ridiculous. If you were to give such a deal to a Steven Stamkos, I would still be a bit wary of such a deal. However, Kovalchuk isn’t a player on the verge of superstardom the Devils are looking to lock up. He’s a great player, but he’s already in his prime at 27. When his deal is done, he’ll be 44. That’s Chris Chelios territory right now. If he wasn’t under contract for that long, I would put down long odds on Kovalchuk still playing at that age. Now, however, who knows?
Obviously, the idea of paying a player into their mid-40’s when they are only 27 is a risky proposition. The Rick DiPietro deal has been the standard bearer for bad long term contracts, and this one is even longer, albeit Kovalchuk is a much more established player without nearly the injury history of DiPietro. Plus, the contract is likely to be very front loaded. That same report previously linked to in this article says he’ll get $10 million over the first eight years and $7.5 million the next two. That’s $95 million over 10 years, leaving, if reports are correct, $7 million over the last seven years of the contract. Granted, paying a million dollars on average to a player from age 39 to age 44 is still quite the risk, but not as egregious a way to spend money.
Clearly New Jersey is taking a chance with such a long contract, but in terms of money this deal isn’t that bad, provided that Kovalchuk isn’t stifled by New Jersey’s defensive system. Considering that Zach Parise isn’t, that shouldn’t be the case. Plus, he certainly didn’t seem stifled last season. In his 27 games with the Devils, he scored 10 goals and had 17 assists. Overall on the season, he scored 41 goals and 85 points in 76 games.
That’s perhaps the most important thing in this whole contract brouhaha; Kovalchuk is a great player. In 621 career regular season games, he has 338 goals and 642 points. He’s scored over 50 goals twice, and he’s never played less than 65 games in the season. He’s durable and he’s one of the best goal scorers in the league. He also probably has a solid decade of good to great play left in him before Jersey has to worry. Yes, he has a career plus/minus of minus-75, but he played for some awful defensive teams in Atlanta, and early in his career he was all offense. It may be a small sample size, but in his 27 games with New Jersey last season he was plus-9. That’s encouraging.
So, it would appear that Ilya Kovalchuk is going to end his career with the New Jersey Devils. It is a career that, should it progress as I expect, will end with Kovalchuk in the Hall of Fame, or at least with Hall of Fame worthy numbers. He is going to be a tremendous offensive weapon for the Devils, a team that is probably really hoping it can win another Cup before Martin Brodeur retires. With Kovalchuk in tow, that is certainly a possibility. While the 17-year contract sticks out, in the end they have secured a great player for a pretty reasonable price. That’s never a bad move.