Former New Jersey Devils left winger Ilya Kovalchuk is garnering more attention in the rumor mill. After spending the last four seasons in Russia, the 34-year-old hopes to return to the NHL next season.
Despite recent reports from Russia claiming Kovalchuk had a change of heart, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports that's not the case. Meanwhile, there's growing speculation several NHL clubs are interested in his services.
The Devils still own Kovalchuk's rights and he cannot sign a new contract until July 1. His salary demands have yet to be determined but he could seek around $5-million annually on a two- or three-year deal. While it's possible he could return to New Jersey, GM Ray Shero will allow the Kovalchuk's agent to speak with other teams to perhaps facilitate a sign-and-trade scenario.
Larry Brooks of the New York Postreports the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs are among a half-dozen teams to express interest in Kovalchuk. Brooks indicates several of those clubs have ties with the winger from his tenure with the Devils, including Blues assistant GM Martin Brodeur, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer and Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello.
According to TSN's Darren Dreger, the Leafs aren't interested and haven't contacted the Devils or Kovalchuk's representatives. As of Monday, there was no confirmation or denials from the other clubs.
The Sharks could use an experienced scoring forward. Their 2.67 goals for per game ranked 19th among NHL clubs this season while their power-play percentage (16.7) was 25th. With over $58 million invested in 17 players, they have sufficient salary-cap space to sign Kovalchuk.
However, the Sharks must also decide if they're re-signing veteran stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. New deals for those two could take up much of that cap space. Even if there's sufficient room to sign the trio of 30-something forwards, they would make the Sharks' offensive core among the league's oldest.
The Blue Jackets were among this season's highest-scoring clubs, sitting sixth (3.01 goals for per game) and 12th in power-play percentage (19.9). They also have over $70 million invested in 22 players and restricted free agent forwards Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson to re-sign. Unless they're shedding significant salary in the offseason, they have little reason to pursue Kovalchuk.
Cap space could also be a concern for the Blues, who have over $68 million tied up in 20 players and defenseman Colton Parayko due a significant raise this summer. They were 12th in scoring (2.84) and 8th in power-play percentage (21.3). With Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri already on the left side, Kovalchuk might not be a suitable fit.
The Rangers, meanwhile, are reportedly interested in adding a top-four defenseman with a right-handed shot this summer. With over $63 million invested in 18 players, they probably don't have enough space to add that blueliner and still take on Kovalchuk.
EBERLE'S FUTURE IN EDMONTON REMAINS MURKY
In a recent interview with TSN's Pierre LeBrun, Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli stopped short of suggesting right winger Jordan Eberle could be dealt this summer in a cost-cutting move. Despite Eberle's struggles in this year's playoffs, Chiarelli praised the 27-year-old and suggested he was unfairly portrayed by the media.
But according to LeBrun's colleague Darren Dreger, Chiarelli has received some offers for Eberle, though none yet to his liking. Given the Oilers' need to free up cap space to re-sign young superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Dreger said it sounds like Eberle will “definitely get traded.”
That move doesn't have to take place now. Draisaitl is completing his entry-level deal and needs a new contract this summer. McDavid, meanwhile, has a year remaining on his contract. The Oilers can re-sign him on July 1 of this year and his new deal won't be effective until 2018-19.
Chiarelli could re-sign them both and wait until next year to move Eberle. Trading him now, however, could be the most sensible option. He's carrying a $6-million cap hit through 2018-19 and it could prove risky to assume he'll generate as much interest in next summer's trade market as he is right now.
If Chiarelli trades Eberle this summer, he'll likely wait until after the expansion draft. Peddling him now for another player could screw up his list of protected players. The asking price could be an experienced right-handed defenseman. Chiarelli could also absorb part of Eberle's cap hit to make the deal palatable for potential suitors.
KINGS INTERESTED IN KANE
Over the weekend, Elliotte Friedman reported the Los Angeles Kings could be among the clubs interested in Buffalo Sabres left winger Evander Kane. A frequent subject of trade speculation this season, the 26-year-old is a year away from unrestricted free agent eligibility.
Friedman didn't elaborate as to what the Kings could offer the Sabres for Kane. He notes, however, they're in desperate need of salary-cap room for 2017-18 and require an injection of youth into their scoring lines.
Coming off a 28-goal performance, the 6-foot-2, 211-pound Kane could be a good fit with the Kings' physical style of play. So far, however, new Sabres GM Jason Botterill hasn't tipped his hand over what moves he has in store and if Kane will be among them.
The Sabres' porous defense should be Botterill's main area of concern. If he shops Kane, he could seek a top-four blueliner in return from the Kings, perhaps Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez, who each carry $4 million in annual average salaries. To make this hypothetical deal work, Botterill might have to absorb a portion of Kane's $5.25-million cap hit.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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