Could the lure of $20 million a season cause Ilya Kovalchuk to leave the NHL and return home to play in the KHL?
At least one NHL general manager thinks it is possible.
"(Alexander) Medvedev is on a mission," said the GM, who requested anonymity. "He’s paying (Sergei) Fedorov $14 million this season so how much do you think he’d pay to get Kovalchuk? Twenty million a season? That’s what I’ve heard."
Medvedev is the president of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Considering players in the KHL do not pay taxes, nor do they pay escrow like they do in the NHL, if this is true then Kovalchuk stands to make a lot more playing in Russia than he could in North America. Not only that, there has been speculation NHL players could face another salary rollback during the next collective bargaining agreement talks.
Kovalchuk, currently 11th in NHL scoring with 26 goals and 50 points in 39 games, is in the midst of contact negotiations with the Atlanta Thrashers and there is all kind of speculation the team will trade him if they cannot get his signature on an extension. It has been reported he is looking for in the neighborhood of $10 million a season for 10 years.
Said one NHL player: "That is impressive. For one year, wow, that’s like six-to-seven years here after taxes."
Considering the Thrashers are struggling at the gate, it seems highly unlikely they could pay one player that kind of money – unless, of course, they sign him in order to sell the franchise. There is speculation the owners would like to sell the team and they suspect it is worth more with him than without him.
A number of teams have expressed interest in acquiring Kovalchuk, but they must decide if they first need to get his name on a contract as part of the deal or can they risk taking him as a rental player only to have him leave at the end of the year. It could be costly to a team to trade for him and then have him bolt in the off-season, the way Marian Hossa did after his short stint with Pittsburgh two years ago.
Kovalchuk isn’t the only player in the sights of the KHL. A source told sportsnet.ca Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin is so upset about having to pay 18 per cent of his salary to escrow he is prepared to consider leaving the Capitals after this season. Sources say Ovechkin expressed his displeasure with having to pay escrow during an NHLPA conference call meant to talk about the direction of the organization.