Here is a disclaimer: I was an Atlanta Thrashers fan. I do still miss Ilya Kovalchuk’s speed, excitement, and dynamic goal scoring ability.
I, like the rest of you, haven’t watched Kovy play much since he left the NHL in 2013, when he was 30.
He’s won two Gagarin Cups with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL in that time, gotten paid, and has scored 107 goals and 264 points in 245 games. Yes, the quality of play in he KHL is significantly less than that of the NHL, but still. Kovalchuk still has the ability to be a presence on the ice and an asset on the point sheet. It’s not like he’s dead weight.
Thanks to a plunge in the worth of the ruble, plus whatever other reasons he has, Kovalchuk would like to return to the NHL. It’s not surprising that guys who have played with Kovalchuk or who have coached him would like to have him on their team, and one of those people - Martin Brodeur - happens to work for the Blues.
Slap Shots has learned the Blues (with assistant general manager Martin Brodeur), Maple Leafs (with general manager Lou Lamoriello) and Sharks (with coach Pete DeBoer and assistant Johan Hedberg) are among more than a half-dozen clubs who have expressed interest in Kovalchuk.
The Blues and their occasional lengthy goal scoring malaise tendencies being on that list shouldn’t surprise anyone. Offensive help would be nice, and Kovalchuk - who spent some time with Vladimir Tarasenko on both the national team and on SKA St. Petersburg - had some chemistry with our Russian winger. The two of them showed some solid chemistry together, and any help we could throw Tarasenko’s way would be nice.
With Ken Hitchcock gone, Kovalchuk would have a bit more space, though it’s difficult to imagine Mike Yeo giving him complete leeway in how he plays.
The issue past all of the on-ice speculation is cap space. The Blues have $4,458,333 in cap space right now for next season, with 20 of 23 roster spaces filled and Colton Parayko due a pay raise. Getting Kovalchuk, who has a cap hit of $6,666,667 and eight (!) years remaining on his NHL contract, would necessitate dealing, at the very least, Jori Lehtera back to the Devils - and probably a young piece or two that the Blues may not want to deal. Trading him leaves a gap at center that Kovy isn’t going to fill.
For once, we’re not talking about Kovalchuk’s work ethic or on-ice production. We can skip all of that and look at contract amount and the term. He’s a UFA on July 1st, and he may return to Russia, and as Brooks points out, waiting one more year until he’s off of the voluntary retired list may not be a bad idea so teams can dodge that contract.
Kovalchuk could add offense here, there’s no doubt about that, but unless Doug Armstrong wants to break his off-season protocol of making small to medium size moves during free agency, he’s not going to be a Blue.