(UPDATE: Kovalchuk has been traded to the Capitals for a 2020 third-round pick. Montreal will retain 50% of Kovalchuk’s salary.)
The NHL trade deadline is later this month (February 24, 3 p.m. ET) so the Pro Hockey Talk crew will be taking a closer look at some individual players that could be on the move. Today we focus on Montreal Canadiens forward Ilya Kovalchuk.
Player: Ilya Kovalchuk
Current team: Montreal Canadiens
Contract Situation: Unrestricted free agent after this season with a salary cap of just $700,000.
Why the Canadiens might trade him: When Kovalchuk and the Kings went their separate ways earlier this season, the Canadiens picked him up for next-to-nothing at a time where they were desperate for healthy forwards that could score. Given how his time with the Kings went expectations were low and there was some legitimate concern as to how much the 36-year-old winger still has left. As it turns out, he does still have something left. The problem is the Canadiens are almost certainly not going to make the playoffs, he is a free agent after this season, and he could bring a return.
If the Canadiens can take a mid-season reclamation project and turn it into a second-round pick or something of similar value it would make it all worth it. Kovalchuk has said he isn’t focussed on a trade at the moment and is instead committed to trying to help the Canadiens climb back into the playoff race.
That seems extremely unlikely to happen, so a trade makes the most sense because you’re getting a return for nothing more than a 15-20 game commitment.
Teams that could/should be interested: Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues
What he provides: Offense. He still provides offense.
His days as being one of the league’s best goal scorers are in the rear-view mirror, but he can still make an impact with the puck on his stick and produce at a second-line (and maybe even borderline first-line) level.
Even when you include his time with the Kings the past two seasons — a situation that just never seemed to be a good fit for either side — he has averaged a 20-goal, 50-point pace over 82 games since returning to the NHL, while his overall game has looked significantly better since arriving in Montreal.
It really, truly, looks like he just needed to get away from the Kings and into a better situation.
He was injured for a part of the 2018-19 season, never seemed to gain the trust of last year’s coaching staff in Los Angeles even when he was healthy — a relationship that had clearly soured — and his style of play just never seemed to mesh with how the Kings play or the talent on the roster.
Predicted Destination: I want to say Columbus, because the Blue Jackets need offense and do not have a ton of draft pick assets to deal from. So cheap options could be the focus. Here’s the problem: Let’s say the asking price for Kovalchuk is a second-or third-round pick. Over the next two drafts the Blue Jackets only have one such pick at this moment (a third-round pick in 2021). There’s no way they should give up their first, and there may not be a match prospect-wise.
So I am going to stay in the Metropolitan Division and say the New York Islanders. The Islanders also have a desperate need for offense, and there is history between Kovalchuk and Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello. Lamoriello traded for Kovalchuk in New Jersey many years ago, he signed him to that massive contract, there seems to be a mutual respect between the two men, and the Islanders were reportedly interested in signing Kovalchuk when he returned to the NHL a year ago.