As we slowly approach week two of Kovy watch 2010 the most sought after free agent of this summer not named Lebron James has yet to pick a team. As much as VERSUS or the NHL network would probably love to air his decision live, I can’t see that happening. It would mean hockey being recognized as a legit sport in this country by those who can only pay attention once a week to their beloved team but I digress.
In case you haven’t heard, there are two confirmed teams in the NHL (Devils and Kings) vying for Kovy’s signature and one in the motherland lead by poacher extraordinaire Alexander Medvedev of SKA St.Petersburg. There are few people in the hockey blog world that know a thing or two about Jersey, Los Angeles, and good ole Leningrad.
Luckily, yours truly not only resides in the lovely state of NJ, has family in LA, but has also traveled to St. Pete from his home city of Moscow more than once. Being 3 for 3, below you will find an in-depth analysis to where he should sign and why with all the necessary factors including where everyone is of today to convince anyone in such a predicament as Kovy has found himself since July 1st.
New Jersey Devils: Kovy came to the Devils weeks before the trade-line from the Atlanta Thrashers when he turned down both a 12-year, $101 million and a seven-year, $70 million contract also known as “please don’t leave us or we’ll be relocated to a city that actually cares about a team”. The Devils traded little to obtain the two-time 50-goal scorer who put up 10 goals and 17 assists in 27 games along with 6 points (tops) in what was another short-lived trip to the playoffs for the team.
It seemed that at the time of his arrival, he would be no more than a rental player once the season ended, as GM Lou Lamoriello doesn’t exactly hand out lucrative contracts when it comes to big name players. But being the best comes naturally for the man who has been actively trying to convince Kovalchuk that his best shot at Cup glory comes with a team that has won three in the last 16 years and that the team is in a “win now” mode opposed to rebuilding.
It appears he came close to a deal reported to be $60 million seven-year deal but that obviously wasn’t the case as we are still talking about where Kovy will end up. Last we heard from Lou “everything was the same”.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have been doing a hokey pokey esque dance with Kovalchuk and his agent Jay Grossman,( who just loves to tweet about how he conducts business, by the way,) saying “they’re in and they’re out and how they would shake all the money they have for him all about”. After saying they’re out once, twice and apparently now a third time, it appears that talks have reopened once again, as he has left LA after flying into meet with team brass.
SKA. St. Petersburg: This is the only confirmed team from the KHL that has said they are interested in the services of Kovy. Having poached Evgeni Nabokov last week, you would think the money would be an issue. However in Soviet Russia luxury taxes you! In typical old-time Russia fashion if there’s a problem “do whatever it takes to make it work and we don’t care what you do, just try and stop us.”
The KHL happens to be part of a country where it’s own president strongly considered re-writing the consitstution to prolong his stay
as the Cza… I mean head of state. So there really is no stopping the KHL getting their poaching fingers on one of the best players in the NHL. He probably won’t go back to his original team of Spartak or his lock-out team of AK Bars so it looks like SKA is the only legitimate option.
Way of life
There is obviously a lot to consider here for Kovalchuk. He is married with three small children (4-year-old daughter, Karolina, 1-year-old son, Philipp, and Artem, born in March), which means that education and safety will clearly be important in selecting where he will sign and thus live with his family.
New Jersey: New Jersey is ranked 5th among best American public school systems and is the 16th safest state in the country, which is a big deal considering we have heard murmurs of 17-year contracts. Also, we are in the shadows of New York City which offers the hustle and bustle that LA can not.
Los Angeles: It is hard to compare an entire state to a city but if they were called the California Kings it would be a lot easier. Here is a map of schools in the greater Los Angeles area with the scale. There are far more non green icons, not to mention they have good ole Compton, which is a far more dangerous than Newark, NJ. Also having been out to California everything is slower compared to the east.
St.Petersburg: There is a reason my mom brought me here from Moscow. If the top city in the country isn’t producing a safe environment or a suitable school system, there’s no way Leningrad is.
The Russian Factor
I have read a lot about Kovy surrounding himself with a community where he won’t have to travel too far to find a place where he can speak his native tongue. Since I can’t exactly post my address(yes we do have readers here) for him to come hang out, there are other possibilities.
NJ: For those of you who are unfamiliar with New Jersey or Newark where the Devils play and practice, it is located in the northern part of the state, 26 miles from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, which is also known as Little Odessa. Brighton Beach is so Russian that many of the residents hardly speak English as the store signs are in their native language and you would be hard-pressed to find an english-only speaking employees.
There is also Fair Lawn, NJ just 17 miles from Prudential Center where 10% of it’s 30,000 person population is Russian and also offers a Brighton Beach feel but with bigger houses and more open-minded people. I would assume Kovy wants his children to study Russian and could personally recommend about three schools that do so.
LA-Los Angeles does have a small Russian population from what I have been told from family but when you compare it to New Jersey’s it’s abysmal.
St.Petersburg-Zikov isn’t here to defend his home city because he is still mourning the loss of Sergei Gonchar from his beloved Penguins but I will use the same reason I did earlier by saying there is a reason we are both in this country.
NJ-The Devils boast a great supporting cast with Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, new comer and fellow countrymen Anton Volchenkov, Martin Brodeur and Vladimir Zharkov (who roomed with Kovy last season). There was clearly chemistry with this team which Kovalchuk practically took on his back in the playoffs. Despite not fitting in with the defense first aspect he managed to do just fine in the trap ridden Devils system.
New head coach John Maclean preaches more of an offensive style and the team is probably realzing they need to attract more fans to the arena.
LA-The Kings have a good corp of young talent with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Wayne Simmonds along with Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson which would make Kovy the centerpiece of a team which has promise but it still years away from being a contender. You can look good for a round or two in the playoffs but you have to be built for the long haul which isn’t the case for the Kings.
SKA-SKA boasts plenty of former NHL players with the likes of Sergei Brylin, Alexei Yashin, and Evgeni Nabokov but they play in the KHL not the NHL even Kovy’s mom is all about him staying in the NHL.
The conclusion, if you couldn’t pick it up in this post, is that I am a Russian-American who lives in New Jersey and roots for the Devils, but you have the facts in front of you and as you Americans like to say, the proof is in the pudding. Plus I would really hate never having an opportunity to wear my Devils Kovlalchuk jersey which happens to be the third one ever made.