According to several reports, the Columbus Blue Jackets have reached out to the New Jersey Devils, kicking the tires on Ilya Kovalchuk. Jarmo has said that he is looking for “a sniper in key moments” and there are few better goal scorers on the planet than Kovalchuk. Look at these numbers (via hockey-reference)
The Blue Jackets could certainly use production like that on their top line. His production hasn’t dipped in the KHL either, where he registered 32 goals and 46 assists last season in 60 games played. Kovalchuk is 34, however, and his production may begin to dip soon.
So, could the Blue Jackets plausibly acquire Kovalchuk? Let’s find out.
To add Kovalchuk to the roster, any team in the NHL would have to jump through several hoops. Kovalchuk must first decide that he wants to actually make a return to the NHL, no sure thing. After that, Kovalchuk would have to sign with the New Jersey Devils as they still hold his NHL rights thanks to his currently being on the Voluntary Retirement List. To play for a team other than New Jersey, Kovalchuk would have to sign a contract with the Devils and then be traded.
Kovalchuk’s presumed contract would likely fit onto the Blue Jackets salary cap. The Jackets have just under $3 million in salary cap space heading into next year, and that does not include the long term injured reserve space that will be opened up with David Clarkson’s contract next year. Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg must be re-signed this summer, but the contracts of Kyle Quincey, Lauri Korpikosi, and Sam Gagner will fall off this summer, as will the contract of whichever player is chosen by the Vegas Golden Knights. Assuming roughing $1 million for Anderson and $2.5 million for Wennberg, the Blue Jackets would have approximately $5 million to add Kovalchuk’s contract. It would be hard to see an aging player (again, he’s 34) commanding much more than that.
So, if the Blue Jackets could mathematically add Kovalchuk, what would it take to get him into the Union Blue uniform? It depends on the market. Currently, it is known that approximately 6-7 teams (including the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers) have asked about Kovalchuk. New Jersey would likely want young players, prospects, and picks.
So, for the Blue Jackets to get him, let’s assume that it will take, at minimum, 2018’s first round pick as a starting point. New Jersey would also likely ask for much more, given the Blue Jackets’ status as divisional rival. Young players like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Vitaly Abramov, Sonny Milano, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara, and Oliver Bjorkstrand could potentially be discussed as trade chips. Exactly what New Jersey would ask for is unclear - there’s never been an opportunity like this.
If I were a betting man, I’d wager that the Blue Jackets would be priced out of the Kovalchuk sweepstakes because the front office has been reluctant to give up the young pieces it would take to get Kovalchuk. But it’s fun to dream aboout what his skill level could bring to the team.
What do you think? Could the Blue Jackets snag Kovalchuk?