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Photo Credit: © Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Ilya Kovalchuk

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.

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.

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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

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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

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Rick Nash – 34 points in 71 games

Michael Grabner – 34 points in 70 games

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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.

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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.

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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? 


  • Spydyr

    When was the last time a 35 year old free agent signing worked out for any team?

    If he really want to win the Cup see if he will sign for one year one million. If not smell ya later.

  • ubermiguel

    If I had my way he’d rot in the KHL until Comrade Putin retires as dictator. Or I’d force Lamoriello to take him back at his original contract; $6.6 mill cap hit and current salary in the $7 mill range. But if he’s coming back anyways the Oilers could float a $3mill/2 year contract his way. The McDavid Advantage might be enticing enough.

  • Homer

    This might me my opinion but he’s old and unreliable and has been a big fish in a litttle pond to long. I can’t see him being effective over here unless he gets gifted easy minutes. The KHL isn’t as good as the AHL

    • Samesame

      No offence intended, but I don’t think I know much about how great he was and still is judging from reports that he’s still a fitness freak and the way he played at the Olympics. Will he step back in and immediately be one of the games best wingers again? Most likely not. But I’ll bet you anything that you’re wrong about him. 20 goals and 50 points in his sleep still. And that’s bare minimum. If we could get him to 2 years or under, I’d be all over it

    • People said the same thing about Jagr when he wanted to come back from the KHL, and then Jagr put up five more awesome years in the NHL and was a total pro.

      Doesn’t mean Kovalchuk will be the same, but Jagr’s really the only comparable we’ve got.

      • puckle-head

        He played 816 games in the NHL before he went back to Russia (and he put up 816 points doing so), so I wouldn’t call that unproven. It is fair to wonder what he will bring to the table at age 35 though. He will probably want a longer contract, which should be considered a deal breaker…

      • oilerjed

        I cant imagine a team that would be willing to pay that much for a 35 year old player that has burned teams in the past. I figure 4-5mil on one year contracts

      • OilersGM

        I don’t think any team will give him a 2 year deal at 6-7 mil a year except for Vagas. But on a one year deal I see teams doing what Montreal did with Radulov.

    • OilersGM

      He wasn’t a free agent, the devils had his rights but could’ve been traded and signed but no one took a risk on him but I honestly would’ve like Eberle for him last offseason than Eberle for Strome but what do I know. Chiarelli sucks.

  • ConAir NicCagevid

    NO THANKS. Would rather have James Neal or John Carlson (a dman yes I know) with more years ahead of them than a flaky 35 year old. Maybe if we were to sign him to a one year deal then deal him off for assets but yeah, I will pass on Ilya.

  • ponokanocker

    Hi main goal is to win a cup. Where are we in the standings? If we sign him, our cap space is gone, so the ability to improve the team otherwise would be minimal. Is Kovalchuk the difference between our team winning the cup and being at the bottom of the league?

  • TKB2677

    When you have a player making 12.5 mill which is the salary of 2 or 3 really good NHLers. Then you have Leon making 8.5. So you have 21 mill in 2 guys, you have to try and find cheap guys that can produce with those 2. Even if you think Leon is making 1 mill too much, who cares, that’s 20 mill for 2 guys. 20 Mill for 2 guys is what a lot of teams play 3 or 4 good players. So they will need internal growth and to have some guys over achieve for not a lot of money.

    The one thing that will happen is with the cap going up and the contracts of Eichel, Matthews future extension, Marner extension, Laine extension coming, Leon’s contract will look like a bargain. With Eichel making 10, Leon’s contract is already cheap. I’d be shocked if Matthews gets any less than 11 and he’s probably pushing 12. Marner has 61 pts. I bet he gets 7+. Nylander, probably gets close to 7. Laine has 43 goals at 19 and looks like he will be the Ovie for the next 10 yrs. Ovie makes 9.5 mill on a contract he signed a long time ago. You have to think if Laine is pushing 50 goals at 19, his extension will be at least 10, probably 11.

    So for everyone that got upset by the “overpay” of Leon. It’s going to look pretty darn good real quick.

  • BobbyCanuck

    Does he like to shoot the puck? I cannot remember if he is more of a passer than a shooter.

    After last nights game it should be very clear to everyone that all our players prefer passing the puck to Leon or McD, who in turn are always looking to pass it to someone else, we need shooters not play makers

    ya ya Leon scored on a wonderful one timer, but that was a one time thing

  • OilersBro

    The only way I’d sign him is if it is a low risk one year deal kind of like what we did with Jussi Jokinen. When Jussi didn’t pan out, it didn’t screw us over.
    Ilya likely won’t settle for that so i’d pass. I think the Oilers should be very risk averse with contracts that are multiyear free agent deals (including Patrick Maroon’s offer). We already have 10MM in old man cap space between Russell and Lucic, we can’t afford another mistake.

    • Arfguy

      I swear…if the Oilers bring back Maroon, the organization will regret it. I don’t care how many goals he has, I saw what he was doing this season. He is not going to provide another 27 goals.