“I found myself wondering if Kovalchuk would make for a good winger on Connor McDavid’s line…” said John Shannon while a guest on Oilers Now 630 CHED. “Well, the Oilers already have James Neal,” replied Stauffer.
“In all due respect to Neal…” Shannon continued.
The question of Ilya Kovalchuk on McDavid’s wing is a question more than a few people have likely asked. They’re asking, because as of 12pm today, Kovalchuk will be an unrestricted free agent and can sign anywhere he wants, and will likely do so for the league minimum.
At the same time, rumors are the Oilers just missed out on Taylor Hall, specifically because the asking price was too high. Ken Holland wasn’t willing to give up his first-round pick to bring Hall in as a left-winger.
Could the Oilers move on to Plan B?
A Less Expensive Left-Winger
Kovalchuk, too, is a left-winger. At his age, he’s a much less productive one, but he’s also a fraction of the cost. The Oilers wouldn’t be tied to a long-term deal nor would there be expectation of an extension and if Kovalchuk can actually provide some offense, he’s a good-looking option on paper.
Late Tuesday morning, Pierre LeBrun of TSN pointed out that Kovalchuk cleared through unconditional waivers. Igor Eronoko then reported, “Per source Ilya Kovalchuk wants to sign with a contender and would be OK with a minimum salary. Bruins are interested.”
Other NHL Teams Will Be Frontrunners
Eronko mentions the Boston Bruins and other teams will be mentioned before the Oilers likely are. That makes sense considering when Kovalchuk came back to the NHL he was looking at contending teams before signing with the Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins were among them.
Still, the Oilers — who are tied for first in the Pacific Division and sit in a playoff spot of the Western Conference — are contenders. They may not be Washington, but they’re in the thick of things and highly-motivated to make the postseason. There’s no reason to assume Kovalchuk wouldn’t take a good look if he thought it meant playing with McDavid.
What Kovalchuk Is and Isn’t
Speed is an issue. Defense is an issue. Age is an issue. Scoring might not be, nor is the fact that Kovalchuk could be useful on a second-until power play. The Oilers don’t really have much of one to speak of.
As Shannon pointed out, few people can shoot the puck like Kovalchuk can. Even today, he’s among the best at the skill. The Oilers could also use some improvement on the wing and a veteran with something to prove alongside a group of hungry youngsters might not be the worst idea in the world.
There are obvious reasons a number of fans will shoot down the idea of Kovalchuk as an Oiler and much of that makes sense. That said, Kovalchuk makes a splash. On a team that has found itself in a bit of a losing skid, with empty seats in a fairly new arena, Kovalchuk could inject some life back into the team.
It’s a small thing and an even smaller investment, but it’s one that could pay large dividends if Kovalchuk finds his groove. He’s got plenty of center-men to work with in Edmonton and more than that, very little to lose.