Note: this exercise is completely ludicrous, because there was a 0% chance of it happening in reality. But what if...
Although he signed a $100 million contract, Kovalchuk's cap hit is only $6 million per season. That's only $1 million more per season than our new friend, recently signed Paul Martin. What if, instead of shelling out $5 million for Martin, Shero had inked Kovalchuk at $6 million per season? Suddenly, we are not looking for a top line winger, or any forward. We can roll out:
(Feel free to drop Staal down to 3C, Letestu/WBS player down to 4C, and Talbot up to Malkin's wing)
Of course, then you have a hole on D, 1 million less to play with, and you need another D to replace Martin. Does it work?
You have to consider that the Pens still have to fill a hole at forward, and that's going to cost money. Perhaps it's someone cheap fromWBS around 500K, perhaps it's an outside signee who fetches closer to $1 million. This is money they wouldn't have to pay if they, in my imaginary world, had signed Kovalchuk. The real question becomes, which would you prefer? Martin + WBS player/new third line center or Kovalchuk + cheap D/Engelland. The Kovalchuk option is more expensive by about $1 million, which would only give the Pens $1 million on the year for call-ups/deadline deals.
The Kovalchuk option is sexier, for sure, and it emphatically fills the Pens' top four winger hole. But that D suddenly looks pretty weak, with Gogo in a top 4 role and someone even less experienced/less effective than Lovejoy paired with him. The Kovalchuk option is also much riskier - even though his contract comes off the books if he retires, what if his play declines precipitously in his thirties? Suddenly you've got a cap hit of $6 million for someone who's not contributing AND not much money for defense.
Still, Martin at $5 million vs Kovalchuk at $6? Very tempting to take Kovalchuk with only one million dollars difference.