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Ilya Kovalchuk speculation continues, linked to Leafs

Elliotte Friedman brought the Ilya Kovalchuk speculation back into the public eye yesterday, noting that the Russian former superstar is still interested in coming back to the NHL during the “Headlines” second intermission segment.

Here are the juicy bits of what he had to say, via Sportsnet.ca:

“There were reports this week that Ilya Kovalchuk would stay in the KHL and not come back to North America,” Friedman said during Saturday night’s broadcast. “Word out of the Scouting Combine is that is not the case, that Kovalchuk is still very much interested in playing in the NHL next season.” ..

“I won’t be surprised if some of the interest comes from people who know him—maybe like a Peter DeBoer of San Jose, Martin Brodeur in St. Louis, possibly even a Lou Lamoriello in Toronto,” Friedman said on Saturday. ..

“It’s a complex deal because of New Jersey and getting him signed,” explained Friedman, “but the word is that teams are saying Kovalchuk still wants to come to North America.”

This is particularly noteworthy because of the Toronto connection. When I did my deep dive into this discussion in April, I brought up that I believed the Leafs would be interested in him for similar reasons:

As far as management goes, there’s an easy line to be drawn here in Lou Lamoriello. Lamoriello was the General Manager in New Jersey when they acquired Kovalchuk at the 2010 trade deadline, he was the GM who orchestrated (and paid the price for) his contract, and he was the GM who helped him through the retirement process, which we can all admit probably helped the Devils due to the length of the term as much as it helped Kovalchuk’s personal situation.

New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero talked about the situation with NHL.com earlier in the week, and said it sounded like Kovalchuk’s plan was still to come to North America, but he wasn’t sure of any exact commitments. As far as negotiating trades, Shero hasn’t bothered getting to that stage without a list, which is probably positive for the Leafs if they’re interested. It’s better to have negotiations when you’re one of the only teams (if not the only team) that the player would like to go to, rather than having a bidding war.

My big-picture feelings on the situation haven’t changed. Kovalchuk, who had great results in what many believe to be his first healthy season in a long time in 2016/17, would add depth to an already strong forward core and could be a lethal option on the point on one of Toronto’s powerplay units.

  • Top Shelf

    I just don’t see what the upside would be to this. Yes, he is talented but he’s been out of the league for a while and he’s getting older. I don’t see how plunking him into this group would be a boost. Not that it I think it would hurt them, but I can’t see spending that kind of money on a guy his age.

  • Gary Empey

    There is no doubt the guy was a very good player and at 34 likely has a couple of more good years of hockey. I am not concerned about his personality. His reason for returning to Russia was because of a girl. He felt he needed to be there to sort out the family problems. This sort of thing can happen to anyone. He plays left wing. So to get him into the lineup one of JVR, Komarov, or Hyman, even Martin will be out of the loop. If we had a left winger in the system that needed two years to be NHL ready it might make sense. If we were desperate for goal scoring it might make sense. If we were 100% sure some one else in the Atlantic Division was going to sign him and likely push us out the the playoffs then it might make sense. As it stands now Rychel looks to be NHL ready and it is going to be hard to fit him into the lineup. I would hate to see a young player like Hyman waived to make room. It is more likely Kovalchuk and his agent will be more interested in a team that might be a better fit for him. Kovalchuk would not hurt our season next year. His effect on the Shanaplan could be a problem. Let’s be honest here. Our young prospects and their agents will be saying, Leaf management told us, ” Stick with the Leafs. We will give you the best development tools money can buy. As soon as you are ready there will be a job for you on the Leafs.”
    Instead what will they think when they see 34 year old players brought in for big bucks, while they continue to languish in the Leaf minor system for peanuts. I know there are some who would say ” who cares what they think”. I say an unhappy team is not going to preform well for you.

    • No offense, but you were totally willing to say the same thing to Corrado that we would hypothetically be saying to Rychel or Leipsic this season. Respectfully, what makes them any different. NHL ready means they are just above the sink or swim mark. That doesn’t mean they are ready to be 40 point contributors in the NHL. At best, their scoring like Hyman did this year who didn’t even crack 30 on the top line.

      Kovalchuk scored 78 points in 60 games last season in the KHL and 49 points in 50 the year before. That’s, at worst, 50 points in the NHL (Radulov scored 65 in 53 in the KHL before scoring 54 in 76 last year) for Kovalchuk in a full NHL season. The Shanaplan is a carbon-copy of the Tampa Bay plan that Yzerman carbon-copied from the Detroit plan. Sure, you’ll get your pissed off kids like the Filppula’s of the world, but we’re talking about role players here. They won’t be long term players anyway so why worry about it. They are RFAs. They can’t walk, we can trade them easily, and if not, they wait their turn.

  • Stan Smith

    Every time someone mentions Kovalchuk, I keep thinking back to both Shanahan’s and Babcock’s statements that the Leafs want good people, not just good hockey players.

  • I find it interesting that all the same fears were expressed with Radulov last year. Given what we know now about Radulov and how Montreal is begging for him to re-sign, I wonder how many of you would be brave enough to admit you were wrong on him. Based on that and the fact that I was largely in the same boat, I have changed my tune and am more open to a reasonable contract for Kovalchuk. As long as we can guarantee a shorter contract (2-3 years) so that it doesn’t impact the re-signing of the kids and a reasonable trade for his rights with NJ, I’d take it, even at stupid money. We have the cap room these next few years.

    To be concerned about how this might impact kids like Hyman, Rychel, Leipsic etc. is frankly dumb. They can be shifted in the lineup; down the lineup, to the opposite wing, or to the AHL if need be. They are RFAs; we can do whatever we want with them. It’s amusing that some of you are the same people who said Corrado should take his licks in the AHL like a good soldier but apparently guys like Rychel and Leipsic, unproven NHL maybes, are critical to our future? We wouldn’t be just giving them away. These are the Connor Sheary’s and Bryan Rust’s of the NHL; kids that are cheap deals that fit roles until they become too expensive and get flip for new picks in a never ending loop. Once the big three are making real money, we’ll be flipping in guys like Rychel and Leipsic every few years so don’t get too attached now.

    Komarov could move to centre on the fourth line as it is probably unlikely that Boyle comes back. These young players could elicit a trade for more picks. Anything can happen. Adding assets is never a bad thing, especially when you’re adding an easy 50+ point player. This team would be SOOOOO dangerous next year. That’s exciting. Live a little! But once again, as long as the contract is reasonable.

    • DJ_44

      Hyman, Rychel, Leipsic, and Brown (and Corrado last year) all require waivers to play in the AHL (not that Hyman and Brown belong there). Not saying your assessment is completely off the mark, just sayin.