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Do you really think Ilya Kovalchuk is any good?

It's like the emperor's new clothes. Everywhere I look, I read things like: "The market for free-agent forwards? Some would say it's Ilya Kovalchuk and everyone else." But does anyone really believe that? Kovalchuk is great to watch - he's great on the power play and he looks dangerous when he has the puck.

But he doesn't produce the kinds of results for his teams that you'd expect from someone who's asking for the largest free agent contract this off-season. Let's look at how he did at 5-on-5 over the last three seasons:

Year GP 5v5 TOI Corsi QoC Team Avg Zone Start Team Avg Corsi Corsi Rel
2007-08 79 14.52 0.87 1.06 49.1 42.6 -14.17 -1.00
2008-09 79 14.87 -0.20 -0.16 45.0 42.9 -5.21 1.40
2009-10 76 15.73 -0.40 -0.18 50.7 46.0 0.85 -0.10
Total 234 15.03 0.10 0.24 48.2 43.8 -6.27 0.10

To recap that table in a sentence: Ilya Kovalchuk has been much more likely to start out in the offensive zone than his teammates, and even though he lines up against his opponents' weaker lines, his teams have been significantly outshot while he's on the ice. In other words, he's a seriously negative player at even-strength. By way of comparison, Vincent Lecavalier - who has a millstone of a contract he can never live up to - also gets choice faceoff starts, but he faces tough competition and comes out positive relative to his teammates.

Kovalchuk does have one skill - shooting. He's the rare guy for whom on-ice shooting percentage will consistently exceed the league average:

Year S% Sv% PDO
2007-08 12.71 888 1015
2008-09 12.14 889 1010
2009-10 11.97 916 1035
Total 12.28 897 1020

Remember, PDO is the sum of shooting percentage and save percentage, and it regresses very heavily to 1000 from year-to-year. Kovalchuk has consistently exceeded the league average, so the most charitable thing we can say is that under favorable conditions, he can play his opponents to a draw at even-strength.

Is a player like that really the free agent prize of the off-season?