NEWARK NJ - JULY 20: Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils walks in to a media opportunity announcing his contract renewal at the Prudential Center on July 20 2010 in Newark New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
I think, for all intents and purposes, Ilya Kovalchuk is a simple player. He's a black hole on defense - worth essentially zero - and he has the best shooting abilities in the entire league, bar none (now that Alex Tanguay's a question mark.)
So figuring out his value is pretty straightforward. I looked at how many goals Ilya Kovalchuk should have scored - were he an average shooter - from the spots on the ice that he shot from, and compared that to the actual number of goals scored:
Purely on the basis of his shooting, Kovalchuk gave his teams an extra 77 goals over 5 seasons, or 15.4 goals per season. Six additional goals are worth roughly one win in the NHL, so Kovalchuk generated an average of 2.56 wins per season. At 2009-10 free agent rates - $2.23M per win for a UFA - Kovalchuk adds $5.71M in value above replacement. Add in replacement-level salary ($500k) and he should command $6.21M per season at 09-10 rates; with one year worth of salary inflation, it's closer to $6.5M, which is roughly what my reader survey found last month.
You can build 5% salary escalation (and some de-escalation) into Kovalchuk's contract, but even an optimistic assessment of his abilities and his potential to stay healthy puts his contributions at 30 wins over the life of the contract. At best, he's worth $90M on the ice for the rest of his career, and likely much less. Some teams may be able to generate additional revenue from him, but there's no way a $102M contract - whatever its length - is anything other than an overpay.