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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

How the Edmonton Oilers could land Nikolaj Ehlers or Patrik Laine

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.

UFA Profile: Revisiting Torey Krug as a possible fit

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? 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • ThatGuy109

    He’ll probably command too much and we have no cap space for “big fish”. Would be nice as a 1 year experiment like Radulov though. Could easily see someone like Vegas or Nashville taking a swing.

  • 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.

  • TKB2677

    Back to reality now. Kovalchuk is NOT coming here. Maybe if the Oilers were to throw stupid money at him, he would but they can’t afford to do that and it would be stupid too.

    The Oilers need to go bargain shopping. I could also see an scenario where the Oilers trade a forward and something else to get a vet. As an example. Based on how the coaches play him and his inconsistent play, I think Slep is a goner. He probably isn’t worth a ton but if you package him plus a pick, could you get a decent bottom 6 guy, maybe one that kills some penalties? Maybe. There could be a team out there who maybe has a couple guys the same and are looking for a different type of player. Slep on paper looks pretty good. A right shooting, big, has a good shot, isn’t soft, skates really well winger. Most teams like that. There are always GM’s who think another team isn’t playing a guy in the right spot or not giving him another opportunity.
    What about Kassian? He hasn’t had a good year. When they signed him, I thought it was a good deal because I thought give his combination of size, speed, physical play, edge and some skill, he could be a a decent 3rd liner. The fact that they had him killing penalties to me made it even better. But he didn’t live up to that this season. I question if he is a PK guy because he was one of the guys on a beyond bad PK this year. They finally swapped out some guys and it has been better. So at 1.95 mill, he’s a pretty expensive 4th liner that might not be able to kill penalties. As I described, on paper he has everything a decent 3rd liner should have and at under 2 mill, he’d be a cheap 3rd liner. So is there a team wanting to give him a shot and could you trade him with a low pick to get a legit forward that can be a 3rd liner.

    I keep mentioning 3rd liners because I don’t see a way without using big assets that the Oilers can bring in a top 6 guy.

  • Make Another Bad Trade or Signing!!

    Can’t think of signing him given status of Lucic, Russell and Sekera UFA signings and remaining years. The best of these 3 signings could be described as questionable, and the worst of the 3 as terrible. Oilers do not have the luxury of taking on a higher-risk contract at this time. Had management handled things better, it might be an option, but not now.

  • 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

  • puckle-head

    Couple thoughts: I disagree with the author that the free agent market is uninspiring… In a league where great players basically never hit free agency, that’s not a bad bunch. The real problem is that most NHL GMs are bad at their jobs, and none of the more interesting names on that list will be had for a reasonable cap hit/term because there’s always at least one flailing GM that will throw big money/term at a player who’s game is on a decline.

    Second, I think there’s a real opportunity for the Oilers with Kovalchuk, if he’s willing to sign a “show me” contract like Radulov did. And he may be enticed by the Oilers because of McDavid, but also he would almost be guaranteed a premier spot. If we signed Kovalchuk, he would immediately shoot to the top of our RW depth chart.

    • RexHolez

      it’s usually never just one gm throwing big money to a player. It’s a market. Several gms throw money to bid for a players service. Highest bidder usually wins.

      • puckle-head

        Well… yeah. My point is there’s always one GM that throws way too much money and term at a player and ruins the market. It’s why the free agent market is generally a toxic place to look for assets.

    • oilerjed

      “The real problem is that most NHL GMs are bad at their jobs, ” This statement explains a lot of the mindset on discussion boards and the ridonkulous (sp?) assumptions fans make about what they think they know about running an NHL team.

      Other then that I think the “show me” contract would be worth a gamble if it can be done. It will be interesting how many teams show an interest in Ilya “fool me once” Kovulchuk

      • puckle-head

        Eh, I disagree. Discussion board debates will always have a deep basement to their stupidity because the only barrier to entry is having access to a computer. But I really do think we have to wonder if it’s worth assuming that an NHL GM knows what they’re doing just because they’re a GM. How many got their jobs because they are former players? Or got their start because they were related to powerful hockey insiders and other GMs? Do we really think these were THE best guys available? Think of the number of trades, signings, and draft picks that GMs have made that everyone, the media, fans and bloggers, immediately said to themselves “this looks like a bad idea…” How often did the GM turn out to be right? Think of the fact that George McPhee (a guy who once traded Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat) built one of the best teams in the league off of the 11th (or 9th) most valued player with 3 years professional play from each team (really… think about that! It’s bonkers!). A lot of the GMs issues probably stem from the fact that they don’t expect more than a few years to build their team (and thus don’t prioritize long term thinking), but overall most of them seem to be trapped in thought patterns that are looking more and more suspect. At least to me anyways.

  • SailorD81

    If he could be talked into a bonus heavy contract maybe it would be worth it. Kovalchuk on the PP with McJesus would be nice. He does seem like a big city lights kind of guy though so maybe Edmonton isn’t somewhere he would want to sign.

  • Cowboy Bill

    I would have to say it does look intriguing . Kovalchuk might like the idea of playing on a line with McDavid & Nuge . And Leon may have found himself a winger to play with by the name of Pontus Aberg , another winger that might look good with Leon , is Jesse Puljujarvi . That looks like a solid top six . Leaving the likes of Lucic , Kassian , Khaira , Caggiula , Strome , Slepyshev & Pakarinen to mix and match to round out the bottom six , which might also be bolstered by Yamamotto . Man are the Oilers going to be good next year . Insert tongue in cheek .

  • 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.

  • Hemmercules

    Some stupid team will give him 4 mil or something like that. I think he can still be useful, maybe not on the same level as Radulov but on a cheap one year deal I don’t think it would be a bad thing. Anything over 2 mil for one year, no thanks.

  • Consultant

    Hard pass on Kovy, too old and entitled.
    I’d offer Maroon a contract but he is likely to get better elsewhere.
    Other than that I would prefer to go with younger and cheaper players over old and expensive.

  • 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?

  • crabman

    Ilya Kovalchuck turning 35 this April adds another risk to signing him to anything longer than a 1 year deal.

    If a player signs a multi-year contract and is age 35 or older (as of June 30 prior to the year of the effective contract), the players individual cap hit counts against the teams cap hit regardless of whether, or where, the player is active. However, there is one circumstance in which there is a cap hit reduction, a team will receive a $100,000 relief off of the teams salary cap hit, if a player is playing in the minor leagues after the first year of their contract.
    Giving Kovalchuk any kind of term comes with significant risk. If he was willing to sign a cheap one year contract $2M max with another $1M max in performance bonuses I would take the risk. But if he really is just coming back to the NHL towin a cup I would expect him to take a cheap deal on an established contender. TB or Nashville, top of the league type team.

      • crabman

        @Kepler62c, exactly why I don’t think he is a fit for the Oilers. And when he is signed for $5M a season to a middle of the road team with enough cap space for that contract he will show he isn’t really coming back for a real shot at a cup.
        My Point was unless he is cheap he isn’t a fit for the Oilers.

  • McRaj

    I bet that if he comes back and has a great year, all the people on here saying “stay away” would yell “PC is the worst, we should have signed him”. If you get him for 2 years on a decent cap hit, you make that move everyday. Kovalchuk was the best sniper of the 2000’s not named Ovechkin. Players don’t just forget how to shoot when they hit 35.

    • TKB2677

      You are bang on. If the Oilers somehow signed him, all the fans would say it’s a terrible idea, Chia sucks, etc, etc. If they don’t sign him, all the fans will say that he sucks, etc, etc.

      • RJ

        I think that’s an inaccurate statement.

        Let’s use Kris Russell as an example. He’s a proven NHL defender. I don’t think many people have a problem with him being signed in general.

        What I have an issue with is signing him for too much to play third pairing minutes ($4m), for too long (4 years), and giving him a NMC.

        Back to Kovalchuk. If he signed in Edmonton for $7m/3 years then people are going to be upset. If he signed somewhere else for $2m/2 years, then fans are going to be annoyed why didn’t the Oilers offer him that same deal?

  • 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.