After spending five seasons in the KHL, former New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk is ready to return to the NHL. As for where he will play next season, that’s what everyone is trying to figure out, including Kovalchuk himself.
Although it’s still early in the process and Kovalchuk can’t sign with a team until July 1, rumors about where the dynamic Russian winger will end up are rampant. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers have all expressed interest in signing Kovalchuk.
While the list of potential suitors is long, Kovy did meet in-person with both the Kings and Sharks last week, according to Dreger. On top of those meetings, the Bruins sound particularly interested in Kovalchuk, and their head coach Bruce Cassidy even publicly expressed his interest to the Boston Globe on Tuesday.
Dreger went into detail Wednesday about how some teams are stuck in the waiting game for John Tavares and perhaps growing weary, which means they are beginning to look at a plan B. While Kovalchuk is of course not the “plan B” for every team, it sounds like there are four teams he could quickly become “plan A” for.
I believe the top contenders for Ilya Kovalchuk right now include[s] the Vegas Golden Knights, even though they're not as deep up the middle as maybe he would like.
You look at the Boston Bruins, the LA Kings and the San Jose Sharks. It seemed likely that Kovalchuk would make his decision before July 1st. But, if John Tavares hasn’t made his decision, maybe it’s in the best interest of Kovalchuk to just sit back and wait.
Considering we are still over a week away from July 1, a lot can happen between now and then with Kovalchuk. Yes, it is great to hear the Golden Knights are being considered a “contender” for him, but based on all the reports and rumors out there, it sounds like Kovalchuk is still very unsure about where he would like to play next season.
From the Golden Knights’ perspective, though, they could create an enticing package for Kovalchuk. Of course, the first thing they could ensure Kovy is money. The Knights have tons of cap space — close to $30 million, depending on where the salary cap upper limit settles — and they could make a healthy offer to him. Their potential offer would come with no state tax, too, which is something the Tampa Bay Lightning have benefitted from as well. It’s not a huge factor, but it is something keep in mind.
Aside from money, the Knights also provide Kovalchuk with a chance to win. Say what you want about Vegas’ inaugural season, but the fact remains the Knights were in the Stanley Cup Final and this roster still has tons of room to grow.
The Golden Knights would have to pull a few strings to make this work, but they do own the rights to Kovalchuk’s Saint Petersburg SKA line mate Nikita Gusev. This is probably more of a “what if” than a realistic scenario, but it’s at least somewhat possible that George McPhee can find a way to bring Gusev over from the KHL too, having him and Kovalchuk reunite in Vegas.
Again, not likely, but possible nonetheless.
Bottom line here is the Golden Knights are more than capable of signing Kovalchuk this offseason. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean they will, it is time to start watching this situation more closely.