TSN’s Darren Dreger presented a fascinating update in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes: the 35-year-old is making a tour of California, meeting with the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
(Side question: does this mean Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray is just on vacation or something?)
Now, there’s no telling how interested Kovalchuk would be in signing with either team.
That said, it’s not that difficult to imagine both teams being of some interest to the veteran sniper. Kovalchuk is reportedly weighing winning more than getting the biggest paycheck possible, so it’s worth noting that both teams made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and each franchise appears to be in win-now modes. Each squad boasts lengthy recent histories of success that surely registered to Kovalchuk during his time in the NHL, too.
Oh yeah, the weather’s also nice around those areas. That cannot hurt.
Let’s consider the other vantage point, then, and daydream about how much Kovalchuk could potentially help the Kings or Sharks.
A dream combo in their twilight
The Sharks have money to burn this off-season, even with some RFAs to re-sign, such as Tomas Hertl. An unclear cap ceiling and a probable Paul Martin buyout make their exact ceiling tough to gauge, but even after retaining Evander Kane at a hefty fee, the Sharks boast a fat wallet.
Let’s assume that the Sharks a) fall short in the John Tavares sweepstakes but b) bring back Joe Thornton and sign Kovalchuk.
For hockey fans of a certain age, it would feel a lot like a generation’s Adam Oates being united with Brett Hull, albeit past their primes. (So maybe this would be akin to Hull joining Oates when the latter almost won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks?)
While you’ll get dissenters, combining the greatest passer of his time (Thornton) with the deadliest pure shooter (Kovalchuk) would feel like a fantasy hockey dream come true. Granted, that fantasy hockey dream would be from 2008, but it would probably still be a blast in 2018-19.
Hockey teaches us that those dream scenarios don’t always play out on the ice. Maybe Kovalchuk would mix better with Logan Couture. Perhaps the Sharks would rather load up Thornton with Kane and Joe Pavelski. There are probably even hypotheticals where San Jose moves the two around to try to put together three dangerous lines. And so on.
Considering how strong the Sharks looked with Thornton on the shelf, and how they have great assets including defensemen Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, it isn’t difficult to picture Kovalchuk to San Jose being mutually beneficial.
(And, hey, the Sharks have a history of landing some significant Russian players, right down to their early days.)
Speaking of delayed matches …
Speaking of Kovalchuk during his prime, it was no secret that the Kings were in hot pursuit of the winger when he hit the free agent market. Some would argue that his decision boiled down to the Kings or the New Jersey Devils.
The “What if?” scenarios are pretty fun there, as the Kings captured two Stanley Cups, including one by edging a Devils team that leaned heavily upon Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.
As much as Los Angeles hopes to modernize post-Darryl Sutter, the truth is that this franchise likely still values winning now over any true notion of a rebuild. Anze Kopitar‘s $10 million cap hit runs through 2023-24, Jonathan Quick‘s deal is only one year shorter, and they’re on the hook for multiple years of Dustin Brown still. For better or worse, they may also extend Drew Doughty to a lengthy deal this summer.
Seeking free agent fixes could very well be the Kings’ path for some time, and few opportunities seem as promising as adding Kovalchuk, even at 35.
The most enjoyable scenario if they landed him:
- After logging around Brown and Alex Iafallo last season, Kopitar could set up reams of quality scoring chances for Kovalchuk, a player who would ideally be far more capably of burying such chances.
- Meanwhile, a healthy Jeff Carter skates with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, giving the Kings a truly dangerous one-two punch of scoring lines.
Now, it wouldn’t be shocking if Carter mixed better with Kovalchuk. (The fact that they’re both such dangerous shooters could really open up passing lanes, amusingly enough.)
Either way, a productive and useful Kovalchuk would be a boon for the Kings. Honestly, I’d argue that the Kings would want Kovalchuk more than the other way around … which is consistent with their feelings a decade ago, apparently?
The bottom line is that all Kovalchuk talk is speculation, as he cannot sign with an NHL team until July.
So, yes, these discussions are largely hypothetical. That’s really part of the fun, though, as imagining possible outcomes sometimes ends up being more entertaining than boring old reality.
Draft weekend maneuverings could very well alter the landscape and force a single, no-brainer choice for Kovalchuk. As of this writing, there would be a lot to like about the Sharks or Kings signing Kovalchuk, though.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.