It’s over. The Ilya Kovalchuk era has mercifully ended for the Los Angeles Kings, as Kovalchuk cleared waivers on Tuesday. The 36-year-old is now an unrestricted free agent.
So, would and should another NHL team see if they can make it work with Kovalchuk where the Kings failed? Let’s consider questions that are almost as tricky as Kovalchuk’s peak-era shot.
Kovalchuk unlikely to cost many bucks
Sports-Express’ Igor Eronko reports a few crucial points:
- Kovalchuk is OK with a minimum salary, which makes sense since he’s made a ton of cash, albeit via a winding path.
- Both Eronko and The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun indicate that Kovalchuk would prefer to stay in the NHL.
- That said, Eronko reports that Kovalchuk would like to sign with a contender, and Kovalchuk does have a “lucrative offer” from Omsk Avangard of the KHL.
For the most part, then, a Kovalchuk signing would be low-risk. It sounds like he’d sign a cheap deal, and wouldn’t cost the team assets they’d lose in a trade. That said, there is some risk, as he’d stand as a 35+ contract.
Kovalchuk might be washed
The good news is that it sounds like Kovalchuk wouldn’t cost much. The bad news is that it might be a “get what you pay for” situation.
Consider this perspective from the Boston Sports Journal’s Conor Ryan, which is especially relevant since Eronko reports that the Boston Bruins are “interested” in Kovalchuk:
This season, Ilya Kovalchuk’s individual 5v5 shots/60 rate of 6.1 would rank 14th on the Bruins’ roster.
His 5v5 scoring chances per 60? 11th on the Bruins.
Stay clear: https://t.co/KYCFWm5c1d
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) December 17, 2019
Kovalchuk doesn’t really shine by many metrics, including this middling heat map from Hockey Viz:
Kovalchuk left the NHL an elite player, but just about every sign points to him being “meh” at best since returning, with 43 points in 81 games as a member of the Kings.
A team signing Kovalchuk either needs to have low expectations (“Kovalchuk could at least be better than what we have now”) or a belief that they can get more out of the once-elite sniper.
Let’s quickly consider a few potential bidders of varying likelihood.
So, the Bruins have been eyeing Kovalchuk for a while. One could also argue that he’d be an upgrade over, say, Brett Ritchie on the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. On the other hand, Kovalchuk’s defensive lapses might not make him enough of a net positive for a Bruins team with high aspirations, and it would probably be tough for Kovalchuk to get much more than secondary power play opportunities considering Boston’s firepower.
New York Islanders
The Isles could use a little more “pop” in their offense, and Lou Lamoriello’s history with Kovalchuk is undeniable. One can only imagine the fury Kovalchuk would cause for Barry Trotz, though.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Of course, Kovalchuk might not exactly view the Blue Jackets as contenders, and John Tortorella … well, just picture Torts and Kovalchuk for a minute. Entertaining for everyone except the Blue Jackets, right?
Dallas is somewhere between the Blue Jackets and Islanders when it comes to being competitive despite meager scoring. It makes sense, then, that the Stars would face a similar Kovalchuk conundrum: they need offense, but would Kovalchuk take so much off the table defensively that he wouldn’t be worth a potential bump in skill?
Adding some finish could be a big boost for Carolina, and there’s the Don Waddell Thrashers connection. LeBrun reports that the Hurricanes are still waiting on Justin Williams’ decision, however.
Signing Kovalchuk makes at least some sense to quite a few teams, including some who weren’t mentioned in this post. Even so, Kovalchuk also has plenty of flaws in his game, likely shrinking the list when you factor in teams that are more than merely curious.
Would Kovalchuk make your team better? That’s debatable, but it sure would be fun to see a great player author one more strong run. We’ll find out soon enough if someone decides to roll the dice.