How much is Ilya Kovalchuk worth?

Ilya Kovalchuk has had a bit of a quiet start with the New Jersey Devils but he somewhat picked it up last night scoring a goal and two assists in a 3-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kovalchuk now has 11 points in 11 games with the Devils and 69 points in 60 games this season. Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell said that Kovalchuk turned down a 12-year contract worth 101 million dollars but is he worth that much?

Since coming back from the lockout, Kovalchuk has scored at least 40 goals in every season (he probably will again this year) and had missed only ten games in the past four seasons. I decided to look at the points per game scored in the past three seasons (2007-08 to 2009-10) to see where Kovalchuk ranks:
1 - Alex Ovechkin - 1.44
2 - Sidney Crosby - 1.32
3 - Evgeni Malkin - 1.28
4 - Marian Gaborik - 1.15
5 - Joe Thornton - 1.13
6 - Ilya Kovalchuk - 1.13
7 - Pavel Datsyuk - 1.10
8 - Ryan Getzlaf - 1.09
9 - Jarome Iginla - 1.09
10 - Henrik Sedin - 1.07

When looking at that, it is obvious that the group of Ovechkin, Crosby and Malkin is well-above the rest and Kovalchuk falls in the next group. Let's now take a look at the top ten in goals per games played:
1 - Alex Ovechkin - 0.75
2 - Ilya Kovalchuk - 0.6
3 - Marian Gaborik - 0.58
4 - Dany Heatley - 0.53
5 - Sidney Crosby - 0.52
6 - Jarome Iginla - 0.5
7 - Alexander Semin - 0.49
8 - Zach Parise - 0.47
9 - Rick Nash - 0.47
10 - Marian Hossa - 0.47

As you can see, Ovechkin is obviously on top but Kovalchuk is in second just ahead of Gaborik and well-ahead of Heatley, Crosby, Iginla and others.

Kovalchuk has been much more of a goal scorer than a passer in the NHL but I thought it would be interesting to take a look at his statistics in international play as well. In the past three World Championships and in the 2010 Olympics, he has recorded 10 goals and 22 assists in 30 games. Although it is a small sample, it could suggest that Kovalchuk is capable of passing the puck, but, in Atlanta, he's been more of a goal scorer because of the talent surrounding him.

Looking at the statistics from the last three years that I presented, Marian Gaborik is the closest to Kovalchuk in both goals and points per game. Last season, Gaborik signed a deal worth 37.5 million over five years or 7.5 million per season. The difference between the two however, is that Kovalchuk has played at least 78 games in each of the past six seasons while Gaborik had not played 78 games in a season since 2002-03.

Ovechkin's cap hit is currently 9.538 million while Crosby's and Malkin is 8.7 million. The problem when comparing Kovalchuk with these players is that Ovechkin, Crosby and Malkin are much younger and their contracts were signed as Restricted Free Agents. For the final seven years of his twelve-year deal, Ovechkin will be making 10 million a year so we can use that as a ceiling. If we look at the next four highest paid players: Eric Staal, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Dany Heatley all have a cap hit of at least 7.5 million. There are also a number of players making above 8 million dollars a year but who have front-loaded contracts: Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Jason Spezza and Daniel Briere, all of whom had proven much less than Kovalchuk when signing their long-term deals.

If we put all that together, we know Kovalchuk is worth less than 10 million per season (Ovechkin) but is worth more than 8 million per season. In my opinion, Kovalchuk is worth about 72 million over the next eight seasons right now but the contract will probably be extended to ten to twelve seasons in order to reduce the cap hit. With all that said, I expect Kovalchuk to get an offer of about 85 million over ten years and in my opinion he is well worth it.

Ilya Kovalchuk however has a very interesting opportunity to increase his value while playing with the Devils. He has the opportunity to show that he is not a pure goal scorer, that he can succeed outside of Atlanta and that he can play well in the playoffs. If he does all that, it will be much easier for a GM to offer him 90 million over the next ten years.