After five years in the Kontinental Hockey League, Ilya Kovalchuk is ready for a return to the National Hockey League. We’ve discussed this before, but news that the KHL’s scoring champ is touring the West Coast has ramped things up a bit.
Kovalchuk was one of the most dynamic scorers in the NHL. He scored 417 goals in 816 career games before his departure in 2013, putting him on a pace of 0.511 goals per game. That’s only bested by the still-partying Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos among active skaters.
The 35-year-old is a dicey signing for any team, however, and that limits the pool. He can’t sign anywhere until July 1, but this swing through North America is drumming up interest.
Kovalchuk’s age means that a team signing him won’t get any cap relief if they have to buy him out. He’s not tested in the NHL as of late, which means there may be issues with him getting up to speed.
The Los Angeles Kings are said to be on the list with respect to Kovalchuk. They have scoring needs and want to change the culture of their team after they were steamrolled out of the post-season. Adding Kovalchuk provides a boost, especially if his speed is up to par. Putting him in the company of Anze Kopitar is intriguing.
The San Jose Sharks are likewise on the list. They averaged 3.01 goals per game in 2017-2018 and need a kick in the pants. Evander Kane will help and Joe Thornton’s beard may sign up for another run, but there are holes that need plugging. If Kovalchuk’s asking price is reasonable, they’re in. Peter DeBoer is familiar with him, too.
Rumour has the Sharks also associated with John Tavares, so anything could happen at this point.
Speaking of Tavares, sources have the New York Islanders interested in Kovalchuk. If they lose Tavares, they’ll need another franchise linchpin. While Kovalchuk’s age puts him out of range for world-altering impact, his presence would turn heads and put the franchise in the spotlight. With Lamoriello fully in the saddle, this could be a pertinent detail for the rebuild.
The New York Rangers are almost always in the mix when it comes to opportunities like this, although their club is looking to trend younger. They, like the Islanders, have the cap space to swing a good offer.
Speaking of cap space, the Detroit Red Wings are in need of an offensive boost. Kovalchuk could put some butts in the seats, at least for a little while. Ditto for the St. Louis Blues, whose 24th-ranked offence needs to get a lot better.