I've wanted to stay away from the rumor mill for the most part until a decision is announced one way or another, but the news that Ilya Kovalchuk is traveling to Los Angeles for face-to-face negotiations with Kings GM Dean Lombardi tomorrow lead many to believe an agreement is imment, though for his part Lombardi denies this.
``Ilya is coming out to LA,” Lombardi told ESPN.com. ``We’re going to meet face to face. But reports that we are announcing his signing tomorrow are utterly and completely false. We have no deal. We’re not even close. I mean, who knows, maybe we’ll get close tomorrow but we have no deal right now.”
Of course it suits him to say that a deal isn't imminent, since it helps him retain the hammer he currently holds over Kovalchuk in negotiations. With the hundred different rumors out there in the ten days plus that this saga has taken place the one constant seems to be Kovy's interest in LA, given that they've had at least two different discussions that have both ended with Lombardi publicly walking away from the table with a hard-line stance while there's been little information coming out of Jersey. Whether Kovy bends to get a deal now or has to beg for one later it seems obvious that LA's his first choice and one way or another he's going to wind up there.
Personally, if Kovy does go to Los Angeles I'll be more annoyed over the fact that it becomes less likely that sweeping changes will be made if he leaves, since his signing would have forced GM Lou Lamoriello to part with one or two players that the locker room really doesn't need next year. As it is, it looks like much the same team will be returning next season - minus Kovalchuk and defenseman Paul Martin with only fellow defensemen Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder as major additions, and very little in terms of top quality available in either UFA or the trade market.
Clearly though the cap crunch Kovy would have put us in isn't going to be missed and now - if Kovy's officially heading out the door tomorrow - there's no reason for Lou not to sign Zach Parise to an extension sometime between then and next offseason before arbitration where some team could also throw a wild offer sheet at him. Plus there's little evidence Kovy will be the linchpin on a contending team anyway as judged by his up-and-down results with the Devils. Though he was one of the few to give effort, it was rather disjointed at times and that combined with the lack of backchecking skill...well let's just say the uber-purists can probably rest easy now.
On a personal note, I have to say I'm rather surprised and dissapointed with the way the Kings' GM has conducted a very public negotiation. All credit to him for playing the hard-line and it appears that Kovy's camp might be bending finally and if so Lombardi's won the batttle, that's all well and good. However, the public nature of the posturing is a little distasteful and unneccesary. Going out of your way to say the player's demands are outrageous one day then two days later being back in the negotiations, let's just say it's a bit disingenuous at best and Brett Favre-like attention grabbing at worst. As annoying as Lou's silence can be at least he isn't using the press to negotiatiate or play public games.
Too bad all this will probably accomplish in the end is just strengthen the notion that big names don't want to play in New Jersey. For every Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur that stay, a roomful of others like Martin, Kovy, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski (though to his credit he did stay the first time he was a UFA) were all too happy to find greener pastures elsewhere. If most of our departing UFA's before the lockout like Bobby Holik and Alexander Mogilny didn't have success after leaving, seeing Niedermayer, Rafalski and John Madden all win Cups with other teams in a very short period of time has been somewhat annoying. Even if I still like Rafalski and was rooting for Madden's team.
And yet with the way this whole negotiation has gone I still wouldn't be stunned to hear that talks have broken off once again tomorrow, especially if Lombardi turns the screws even tighter. All I have to say is Kovy if you're leaving, you better do it now.