Seeing how today is American Independence Day (observed), I’d like to exercise my independence to go very hypothetical on the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes.
The Islanders might be in it, but Larry Brooks seems to feel its a ruse of some kind, and no one seems to know if the Isles have gone as far as offering a contract. But don’t forget, the Islanders reportedly kicked the tires on Kovalchuk at this year’s trade deadline.
I truly believe the Islanders are interested in Kovalchuk.
First of all, he’s a genuine NHL star and his presence makes players feel comfortable signing with the Isles. Right now, it seems a lot of free agents aren’t comfortable signing with them.
Second of all, Kovalchuk is a draw. The Islanders have trouble filling seats, and a player like Kovalchuk might get more people to come out to Nassau Coliseum.
But let’s not forget that Islanders’ owner Charles Wang is tring to get a new arena built on Long Island. And failing that, he’s seemed prepared to move the team.
The New Jersey Nets are a few years away from moving to Brooklyn, but what if Wang was trying to use Kovalchuk to get into the Nets’ Brooklyn digs?
New Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov understands the power of star players. Look how hands-on he is in the LeBron James negotiations. Prokhorov would have to be intrigued with the idea of having one of the NHL’s great Russian players sharing space with his Brooklyn Nets. Wouldn’t it all add to the glamor of his new arena?
He wouldn’t necessarily need to be a part owner of the Islanders, but I do wonder if Wang would be grateful to be out of the NHL game. Especially if the Isles found themselved forced out of Long Island.
Another thing about Wang is that he understands demographics. He’s tried expanding hockey to various Asian communities, with what seem to be mixed results. But selling hockey to Russian communities might be a lot easier — especially with a player like Kovalchuk.
Brooklyn has 93,742 Russians, almost 4% of the borough’s population. Queens, another rumored Islanders destination has 51,192 Russians, just over 2% of the borough’s population. And that doesn’t count other non-Russian Eastern European ethnicities that might still be interested in a Russian player.
These are potential markets that are most likely untapped by the Rangers. These are potential fans that might be able to be wooed to come to games, either in Brooklyn or Queens. I can’t believe Wang hasn’t looked at these demographics and looked at Kovalchuk and seen dollar signs.
Obviously, moving the Islanders isn’t a trivial thing. I assume the Rangers would have to agree to the move in some way. Getting an arena built is no easy thing, and I assume, since NHL teams make so much from owning their arenas, that Wang would much prefer to own a piece of an arena, rather than renting from Prokhorov.
But if Wang is considering moving and if Wang is looking to New York City’s boroughs, a player like Kovalchuk would more than pay for himself, almost no matter the contract amount.
Kovalchuk isn’t Alexei Yashin. The Islanders grabbed Yashin because he was the best player available who could establish the Islanders were a serious, competitive NHL team. They grossly overpaid to show potential free agents that the team had resources. Yashin’s contract was horrible and irresponsible, but there was some method to the madness.
Signing Kovalchuk wouldn’t be cheap, but he’s a gifted player that would make the team better. And his Russian ties could allow the Islanders to find the modern arena they’ve been looking for all of these years.