Ilya Kovalchuk’s birthday was a little more important this year. When the Russian sniper turned 35 years old, he officially became an unrestricted free agent.
The story around Kovalchuk has been well documented. He signed a historic 15-year contract with the New Jersey Devils in 2010 only to walk away from it in 2013 and head home to the KHL.
The whole situation has been a mess, to say the least, but now it’s fairly simple: Ilya Kovalchuk is free to sign with whomever he wants.
Could there be a fit between Kovy and the Oilers?
THE OILERS VIEW
From an Oilers perspective, I think it’s a decent match. Kovalchuk is a 6’3 natural goal scorer with a wicked shot. That’s pretty much exactly what the Oilers want to add to their lineup before next season.
He’s hit the 40 goal mark five times over the course of his NHL career and during his past five years in the KHL, he finished with at least a point per game in three of those seasons.
There are a few things that worry me about Kovalchuk. He’s 35-years-old, so it’s probably not smart to assume he’ll be able to jump back into the NHL and come close to scoring 40 goals a season. Foot speed is another area of concern.
He’s spent five seasons away from the best league in the world, so there’s no guarantee he can jump back into the lineup and be an impact player.
I do think it’s fair to expect Kovalchuk to jump back into the NHL and be a 20-25 goal scorer who can help any team’s powerplay. If the Oilers can get him at around $4 million a season on a short-term deal, I think it would be a great move.
There was a rumour that Kovalchuk was set to sign a multi-year deal with the New York Rangers, but the 35-year-old shot those rumblings down.
“That’s how the press in Russia works great, that I have already signed the contract, and the number of years and the team found… In fact, I have not had any talks with anyone else,” Kovalchuk told Russia’s sports.ru.
There have been plenty of rumours about what Kovalchuk will be looking for when he decides on a team to sign with. Some are saying that he simply wants to win and will go to the team that offers him the best chance to grab a Stanley Cup, while others think he’s going for destination and would prefer to stay on the east coast.
There’s always a chance, but I personally can’t see Kovalchuk being interested in Edmonton. The Oilers could dangle the idea of playing next to Connor McDavid, which might be of interest to Kovy. They might even be able to sell him on the team’s young core and convince him that he’s the missing piece.
It will all depend on what Kovalchuk’s true intentions are. If he wants to win a Stanley Cup, then Edmonton is far from the best landing spot. If he wants to cash in with a big contract, then the Oilers will be outbid by a lot of other organizations. If he wants to have a big role and score a ton of goals, then maybe Edmonton is the best spot.
We also don’t know which teams will be pursuing him. There’s a chance that lots of teams think there are better, safer options on the free agent market. In that case, maybe most legit Stanley Cup contenders won’t even be interested in Kovy and that could allow the Oilers to become one of the better landing spots from a quality of team perspective.
At the end of the day, I think Kovalchuk will be looking for a combination of lifestyle, money and a chance at the Cup. The Oilers simply don’t meet all of those criteria, so I think it’s a long shot that the Russian sniper ends up in Alberta.
If you were in charge of the Oilers, would you be interested in bringing in Kovalchuk? And what would your max offer be?