After last offseason’s big tease with former NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, you can’t blame NHL general managers for taking a cautious approach when negotiating with the 35 year old Russian sniper.
You may recall that talks between Kovalchuk and potential suitors like the New York Rangers, Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings fell apart when the New Jersey Devils, Kovalchuk’s former NHL team, were unable to consummate a deal and ship his contractual rights to another team. This offseason however, Kovalchuk has no ties to the Devils organization and is free to sign with whichever NHL team he chooses.
Early reports indicate that the Rangers, Golden Knights and Kings are still interested, but another Western Conference Stanley Cup contender has emerged as a legitimate option: the San Jose Sharks.
Sharks insider Kevin Kurz of The Athletic recently spoke with Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer who dropped some serious compliments when talking about Kovalchuk. DeBoer, of course, was Kovalchuk’s head coach with the Devils when the team made an improbable run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
Here’s Kovalchuk in DeBoer’s own words:
“I loved Kovy in New Jersey. We went to a Stanley Cup Final together. He was a huge piece for us there. I really enjoyed coaching him. I haven’t seen him in four or five years now. I’m sure there’s still a lot of game left there.”
“I had a really good relationship with him. I had a lot of respect for him as a player and a person.”
Interesting… you don’t get much better than that when it comes to ringing endorsements from your head coach.
The Sharks are expected to make a strong pitch for pending free agent John Tavares and of course they’ve already re-signed winger Evander Kane to a long-term deal. If GM Doug Wilson manages to net Kane, Tavares AND Kovalchuk this offseason, expect the Sharks to emerge as a Stanley Cup favorite in 2018-19. Of course, there's still the matter of Joe Thornton's contract, but the veteran leader has gone on record as saying that he'd like to return for at least one more season with the Sharks and would be willing to take on an affordable contract so that the team can put more resources into the free-agent market.