Alright, I’m very aware I’m going to completely contradict an article I wrote on Monday, but there’s something incredibly exciting about the idea of the best player not currently playing in the NHL, another former first overall pick, playing on Connor McDavid’s wing.
Kovalchuk was on Russian TV today saying he is definitely back in the NHL next season. Wants the Stanley Cup.— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) March 16, 2018
According to Russian hockey reporter Slava Malamud, Ilya Kovalchuk wants to make a comeback. After winning a gold medal at Pyeongchang for his native Russia — well, as an Olympic Athlete from Russia, technically — the Atlanta Thrashers legend is ready to travel across the Atlantic Ocean and add a Stanley Cup to his resume.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question: Should the Oilers get in on this? If this is true there probably isn’t a better way to acquire an elite winger without having to give up an asset in return.
What does the UFA market look like?
Before we get into Kovalchuk, let’s look at what else might be available this summer. To be blunt, the list is, uh, pretty uninspiring. The top 10 wingers available in free agency based on points (so far) in 2017-18 look like this:
David Perron – 66 points in 66 games
Evander Kane – 50 points in 70 games
Daniel Sedin – 48 points in 71 games
Thomas Vanek – 48 points in 71 games
James van Riemsdyk – 74 points in 71 games
James Neal – 41 points in 61 games
Patrick Maroon – 37 points in 65 games
Rick Nash – 34 points in 71 games
Michael Grabner – 34 points in 70 games
Blake Comeau – 31 points in 69 games
Like I said — uninspiring. Somebody is going to overpay Perron based on his ridiculously good season on a surprisingly good Vegas team, Kane has a lot of baggage, Daniel Sedin isn’t actually an option, Vanek is really only a weapon on the power play, van Riemsdyk and Neal are actually interesting options because they’re true goal-scoring power forwards who have a track record of success, Maroon is an option we’re familiar with, Nash is probably over the hill at this point, Grabner has been up and down over the past few years but he’s an effective player, and Comeau is, well, a depth guy, I guess.
What I see on this list are a handful of solid players who are going to be paid to be a lot more than that. The most attractive option, to me, on the list is van Riemsdyk, but I have a feeling he’s going to get a deal similar to what T.J. Oshie got from the Capitals — a smaller cap hit over a long time — based on his 30-goal season this year. The rest really reek of your standard free agent traps, and given their cap situation, the Oilers can’t really afford one of those.
So, what about Kovalchuk?
He’s going to be 35 years old in April, but Kovalchuk was the KHL’s leading scorer this season with 63 points in 53 games and he looked very good at the Olympics. I mean, neither the KHL nor the watered-down 2018 Olympics are NHL-calibre competition, but Kovalchuk can still play.
His goal is ultimately to the win the Stanley Cup and join the triple gold club along with countryman Pavel Datsyuk. “I won’t forgive myself for it when I get older”, Kovalchuk said in regards to if he doesn’t try to win a Stanley Cup again in his career.
Kovalchuk hinted that he wanted to return to the NHL last summer but, predictably, he ended up staying in the KHL. But now that he’s won an Olympic gold medal and doesn’t have the cloud of NHLers not being able to participate in the games clouding his decision, Kovalchuk might actually make the jump this time.
Another thing with him being 35 is that the New Jersey Devils will no longer own his rights. When his contract was terminated back in 2013 and he went on the Voluntary Retirement List, the Devils ultimately retained his rights. Had he tried to make a comeback last summer, the Devils would have had to deal his rights to the team he wanted to play for.
So Kovalchuk is going to be a free agent and he can play wherever he wants. Should the Oilers be interested? On one hand, Kovalchuk is an enigma who essentially packed up and randomly left a team just a couple years after signing an absurd 15-year contract. On the other hand, Kovalchuk is a good winger who won’t cost anything to acquire other than money, and seems to badly want to win a Stanley Cup.
What say you, Nation? Take a gamble on Kovalchuk or stay away? Would he even want to play here? Are the Oilers viewed as contenders at this point?