Last night on the Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada, Elliotte Friedman mentioned that Ilya Kovalchuk would like to return to the NHL. Kovalchuk “retired” from the NHL after the 2012-2013 season, just 3 years into a 15-year contract. This was orchestrated so he could go play in his homeland of Russia, where he would also be handsomely paid with no taxes.
After 4 seasons in the KHL, Kovalchuk wants to come back to the NHL and the Calgary Flames should absolutely explore the possibility of adding him to their team.
Why should the Flames do it?
The KHL is still a strong league and Ilya Kovalchuk is coming off of a dominant season. In 60 games, Kovalchuk posted 78 points (32 goals, 46 assists), good for second in the league. He has always had a ridiculous shot and that is something that does not go away overnight. While he just turned 34, elite players like him generally have a longer shelf life and he has spent the last few seasons playing in a league that has less games and less of a grinding style than the NHL has. He probably has at least a couple strong years left in him.
The Flames have the nucleus of a very strong forward core. Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Matthew Tkachuk are all quality top-6 forwards, Sam Bennett still has terrific potential, while Micheal Ferland and Kris Versteeg (if they retain him) are solid complementary pieces for the top-9.
What is missing from that group? A sniper, in the form of someone like Ovechkin, Tarasenko, Stamkos or Laine. Why do the Flames not have a player like that? Because they do not grow on trees and are extremely difficult to find. One might become available this offseason and the Flames should be exploring every possibility to make it work.
Where could Kovalchuk fit?
These are some of the possible line combinations the Flames could create next season if they were to implement Ilya Kovalchuk into their line up. While a left-shot, he played on the right-wing for a good portion of time when he was a New Jersey Devil, which is something that would be a huge benefit to the Calgary Flames.
As good as Micheal Ferland looked down the stretch with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, imagine 13 and 23 having a triggerman like Kovalchuk on their line?
Want Sam Bennett to have talented linemates to work with? Move Kovalchuk to his line, put Tkachuk on the other wing and you have a second line with terrifying possibilities for the opposition.
Concerned that Kovalchuk might not be committed enough to defensive play? Put him with two extremely responsible yet offensively capable forwards in Backlund and Frolik and you have a line that can do a bit of everything.
Adding Kovalchuk into the top-9 would be a huge upgrade for the Calgary Flames and bring their forward group from quite good, to perhaps one of the very best in the league.
Also, how does a first powerplay unit of Gaudreau, Monahan, Tkachuk, Kovalchuk and Hamilton sound? Lethal.
How could this come to pass?
Since Kovalchuk “retired” from the NHL in the midst of his deal, his contract with the New Jersey Devils no longer exists, but the Devils still own his rights. According to Friedman, Kovalchuk could sign with the Devils no problem. If Kovalchuk wanted to sign with another team, that team would need to get the approval from every other team in the NHL, something that would be quite the task to achieve.
However, as Friedman noted, there is a way around it. If Kovalchuk does not want to return to the Devils or they do not want him to return, the Devils could work out a sign and trade deal, or trade Kovalchuk’s rights to another team. This seems like the most likely scenario. Kovalchuk is getting older and is likely not coming back to the NHL to play for a bottom-feeder, which is exactly what the New Jersey Devils are right now and will continue to be for years going forward.
The Flames could try to cut a deal with New Jersey. The Devils are rebuilding and need all the assets they can get. The Flames have a lot of intriguing prospects both on forward and defence after years of drafting well. It is tough to say what the cost would be for his rights, but if it is not obscene, it would absolutely be worth consideration.
In terms of salary, I do not think Kovalchuk would be looking to break the bank. He just made a ridiculous amount of money over his time in the KHL. He is coming back to the NHL because he wants to win in the best league. I think a ballpark of about $6 million a season would be a reasonable estimate. The Flames need to re-sign Bennett and Ferland, but both should come at a reasonable cost as neither posted gaudy totals this past season. They also need to find a goaltender, but it looks like it will be a buyers market this offseason. The Flames are projected to have just under $22 million dollars in cap space available for next season, with 10 players to sign, assuming the salary cap remains flat. With some clever maneuvering, which is something we can reasonably expect Brad Treliving to be capable of, the team could find a way to fit him in.
Term is the danger here, but if they could get him on a 2-year deal, it is worth the risk.
Why would Kovalchuk want to join the Calgary Flames?
The Flames are an exciting team. They have a progressive young coach that the players seem to really like playing for. They have a lot of talented young forwards and one of the best groups of top-3 defensemen in the league. Adding a player that could significantly increase their offensive potential would dramatically increase the threat of the entire team.
For Kovalchuk, he would have the opportunity to play top line minutes with a terrific playmaker like Johnny Gaudreau and would get first unit powerplay minutes with a group of very skilled players. Kovalchuk would have plenty of opportunities to score and upgrade an already talented group.
The team is trending upward. With internal growth and an external addition of someone like Kovalchuk, they would become a serious contender in the Western Conference. Seems like a good situation to come into.
There absolutely is risk, but the payoff could be huge.
Acquiring Kovalchuk is not without risk. He is getting older and has not played in the NHL for years. Warranted or not, he does not have a sterling reputation. Bringing in Kovalchuk could be a flop.
However, if Kovalchuk returns, there could be tremendous success. He has a track record of being an elite offensive player. Slotting him in with a couple of the numerous talented forwards on the Calgary Flames would absolutely set him up for success. He would not be required to carry the team, rather he would be a great addition to an already strong forward group with a lot of upside.
The Flames window for a championship is opening up. The team is on an upward trajectory, the core is young and improving. The team needs a stop-gap goaltender while their prospects develop and to sort out the bottom of their defence, but they have numerous young players in the organization that could step in very soon on entry-level deals. These are issues that can be solved at an effective cost, through exploiting market inefficiencies that we see in the NHL on an annual basis. The opportunity to add an elite scoring winger who probably has a couple strong years left in the tank, could really help bring the team to the next level.
The Flames should make a play for Ilya Kovalchuk.
Would you be interested in seeing Ilya Kovalchuk join the Calgary Flames?
This poll is closed
Absolutely, what a threat he would be.
Money is better spent elsewhere.
I do not think he would make enough of an impact.
Depends on the cost.