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Top 5 most likely NHL destinations for Ilya Kovalchuk (plus the KHL)

Jun 30, 2010, 4:00 PM EST

kovalchukjuly1.jpgAlmost a month ago, I wrote a series of posts about Ilya Kovalchuk’s impending free agent status. In the first one, I advised NHL general managers to be careful about throwing big money at Kovalchuk. I followed that up with early speculation on where the talented but pricey left wing might land. With NHL free agent mania just one day ahead, I thought I’d take another look at which teams seem like logical choices for the Russian goal scoring machine.

Naturally, once the events open up at noon ET on Thursday, this post could end up looking really dumb. You never know with this crazy, money-spending league.

I’m going to keep the salary cap in mind with this post, but it’s important to note that NHL teams don’t need to be under the cap right away. They have much of the summer to go over a little bit, although obviously that will force their hands with waiver moves and salary dump trades.

Still, I want to keep this within the realm of reason, so teams such as the Penguins and Blackhawks will be left out. I think the Devils are out of the running, too, thanks to the Jason Arnott trade. The Colorado Avalanche have the space for a big move, but they are also out of the Kovalchuk sweepstakes according to Adrian Dater. My guess is that the budget-conscious Anaheim Ducks will re-sign Bobby Ryan instead of going after Kovalchuk.

Anyway, with all that out of the way, here are some of the most sensible destinations for the gem of this year’s free agent crop.

KHL - My guess is that if all things were equal (and by things I, of course, mean money), Kovalchuk would stay in the NHL. Still, the KHL doesn’t have a salary cap and has some tax-related perks too. Which means, in other words, the foreign league could throw a crazy deal Kovalchuk’s way.

1. Los Angeles Kings – The Kings are in a big market with beautiful weather and … oh yeah, they have a pretty good team as well. Los Angeles is well-stocked with young talent (Drew Doughty is almost insultingly skilled) but could use a forward deep in his prime. As long as the Kings are wise with the amount of years they offer, this could be the ideal match for Kovy.

2. St. Louis Blues – As of this time, the Blues have the most cap space in the NHL according to CapGeek.com. That will change if they sign restricted free agents Erik Johnson and Jaroslav Halak, but with more than $32 million they could still afford Kovalchuk. But would he want to play in still-building St. Louis? And do the Blues want to make such a big investment in a transition period?

After the jump, some suitors who have a chance (but a slimmer chance) to land the Russian sniper.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kovalchukkhl.jpg3. Vancouver Canucks – This would be a tighter fit, but it makes
sense in some ways. Kovalchuk might not fit in with a team that grinds
it out so much (even the whipped-cream-soft Sedin twins tend to wear
opponents out in their own way with their patented cycle). Then again,
his world-class hands don’t fit in with that team either, with all
apologies to the surprisingly potent Mikael Samuelsson. Kovalchuk could
be the missing piece for the Canucks, but it would take a salary cap
Houdini act to fill out their roster.

4. New York Islanders – Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do in
Long Island. Still, the Islanders are just a few bucks behind St. Louis
but don’t really have any big free agents. Of course, there’s a reason
for that; the time barely has any NHL players to begin with.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs - I’m not sure the money makes complete
sense, but never – ever – count Brian Burke out of a big deal. My
bet is that the bombastic GM only enters swimming pools by way of the
cannon ball.

So, those are the five teams I’d say are the most likely to land the
big-ticket item of this summer (plus the KHL, obviously). If I had to
wager on it, I’d pick the Kings or the KHL. Like I said before, though,
you never know with the NHL. Logic flies out the window on July 1.

  1. Greg - Jun 30, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    Of the 5, LA is the most likely, but I am not sure that any NHL team will pay him what Ak Bars Kazan or Avangard Omsk would. If some idiot with more money than brains who wants to bring a superstar in his prime back to the Motherland outbids an NHL team by an insane amount, Kovy will go to the KHL.

  2. Tony - Jun 30, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    Kovy isn’t leaving NJ if I had to take a guess honestly. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised when the trade was executed in the first place, and I would not be surprised if he stays with the Devils short-term, maybe for 3-4 years, which isn’t cap friendly, but the Devils are not getting Martin back, and they just waived Pandolfo and Peters, so they have the money if they want him, and if Lou wants him, he’ll get him. LA has more players to sign like Johnson and Doughty coming up than New Jersey does, and I don’t think St. Louis is too serious about him at his price tag right now.

  3. Niesy - Jun 30, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    “My bet is that the bombastic GM only enters swimming pools by way of the cannon ball.”
    Haha! Love it.
    Well, I’d like him to be a King, but only at the right price. NJ seems to be in a similar situation — and it’s not like they don’t have young talent to sign too. If he doesn’t sign with LA, I’d rather he stay in the East.
    But you’re right, you never can limit it to the teams that make sense, with all that GM craziness.

  4. keon67 - Jun 30, 2010 at 6:07 PM

    Leafs only enter biding war if Burke thinks he can get Kovy at a fair price.

  5. keon67 - Jun 30, 2010 at 6:08 PM

    Leafs only enter biding war if Burke thinks he can get Kovy at a fair price.

  6. tarik - Jun 30, 2010 at 7:33 PM

    With all due respect, the canucks do have a bit of skill. Despite their shortfalls, they managed to be the highest scoring team in the Western Conference and second highest in the League behind Washington. They had 6 25+ goal scorers.
    so be more precise.

  7. amy herman - Jul 1, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    good morning i have a feeling with nj’s money issues lou lamirillo will be creative about signing free agents he has to consider resigning zach parise who is no doubt their heart and soul but i see kovy going to toronto and i will tell you why brian burke is putting something special together in toronto. and now with versteeg on the team things could happen. the islanders would be a nice fit too because they are up and coming. garth snow is a good gm so that’s my say

  8. ryan - Jul 1, 2010 at 5:11 PM

    St Louis??? I call BS… Im a diehard Blues fan and theres a slim-to-none chance that Kovy ends up in the Lou.. yeah we have all that money right now but after resigning (and giving raises to Johnson, Perron, Steen, Halak) and then major raises for at least Oshie and Berglund next season.. that leaves us with not anywhere near enough money.. sure it’d be nice but not close enough to being realistic

  9. MindofBob - Jul 3, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    “Of course, there’s a reason for that; the time barely has any NHL players to begin with.”
    You are an idiot.

  10. MACIEJ - Jul 4, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    7.5m NJ offering him is a good deal.Looks like nobody wants him.

  11. Jawz - Jul 4, 2010 at 2:52 PM

    Tbh I think he’ll stay in nj for a few years too, I mean he left Atlanta so he could have a chance for the cup, the only other place I see him going if this is right is maybe Vancouver, they’ve choked in past years but they do have an amazing team

  12. brandon weissenbach - Jul 12, 2010 at 7:32 PM

    If Kovalchuk was to sign with the Blues they would be a top contender in the NHL , they recently aquired Halak now that they have a good goalie and they have great defense and if they would sign him they would have the big scorer that they need!

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