For the second offseason in a row former NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk is expected to be hotly pursued once the NHL’s free agency period officially gets under way on July 1st. The only difference this time around is Kovalchuk has no ties to his former team, the New Jersey Devils, to complicate matters, meaning he can sign wherever he chooses.
Early reports indicate that the 35 year old Russian sniper has met with both the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks over the past week and just yesterday TSN’s Pierre LeBrun confirmed that the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks have also expressed interest in signing Kovalchuk.
The top contenders, I believe, are the Kings (who met with Kovalchuk on Friday), the Bruins, the Rangers and the Sharks (who met with him Monday). Then I think there’s a second group of teams including Detroit, St. Louis, Dallas and Anaheim. Now, other teams can still get involved, no question, but at this point I think that’s your list, which is already pretty deep.
During an appearance on TSN 1050 radio in Toronto LeBrun’s TSN colleague Darren Dreger was asked about the Toronto Maple Leafs likelihood of landing Kovalchuk. While Dreger didn’t completely dismiss the notion, he didn’t seem to think that there would be a fit or appetite from either side.
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So I’m a bit more skeptical when it comes to how close the Toronto Maple Leafs are, and for that reason – and the fact that you’ve already got Patrick Marleau on a three-year deal going into Year Two this year. He can still skate at a high level. Do we believe, do we know that Kovalchuk can still skate at a high level – again, the skeptics are wondering about that.
But he can score. He can shoot the puck. He can do a lot of good things. I just don’t know that the Toronto Maple Leafs would be the right fit, from even Kovalchuk’s perspective, because I don’t see Toronto contending for the Stanley Cup as early as next year.
Seems pretty unlikely, despite the fact that the Leafs were rumoured to be in negotiations with Kovalchuk last season. As Dreger points out, Marleau’s contract may in effect be the Leafs’ Plan B option from a year ago when they realized they couldn’t acquire Kovalchuk. Then again… maybe they have no interest regardless. There’s no way of really knowing at this point, but you can bet that rumours will continue to swirl until Kovalchuk finally puts pen to paper and makes his NHL return official.