Russian winger Ilya Kovalchuk is again an unrestricted free agent after clearing waivers on Tuesday and is looking for work in the NHL. Unlike July 2018, when Kovalchuk signed a three-year deal worth nearly $19 million with the LA Kings, the winger is now reportedly willing to play for minimum wage.
And the Pittsburgh Penguins should pick up the phone.
The Penguins lineup currently has a few holes due to injuries. They also have a hole due to ineffective Alex Galchenyuk, who is making nearly $5 million this season. Since the Penguins have saved a bucket full of cash with players on IR, they could afford to take a chance, especially on a player willing to play for less than $1 million.
Make no mistake, Kovalchuk, 36, is too old to take a big-money gamble (and he was last year, also). The notoriously conservative New York Islanders are interested. So are the Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins.
This season, Kovalchuk has nine points 3g, 6a) in 17 games. However, when he didn’t score a goal in nine games, LA Kings head coach Todd McLellan made him a permanent healthy scratch until he cleared waivers on Tuesday.
Kovalchuk wouldn’t necessarily fit with the Penguins uptempo speed game, but he could mesh with a speedy center or Russian center Evgeni Malkin. You may recall, a few years ago, it was Kovalchuk who played peacemaker between Malkin and estranged lifelong friend Alex Ovechkin at the NHL All-Star game.
As of publishing, PHN cannot verify any interest between the two sides and does not believe interest currently exists.
The negatives are easy to pile up against signing Kovalchuk. He’s 36. He doesn’t play a fast game. He’s no longer the sniper who potted seven 40-goal seasons or who had 10 straight 30-or-more-goal seasons.
He is more likely to be done than he is to be a dynamic contributor.
A minimum wage winger who can snipe? There is a chance Kovalchuk could be rejuvenated by the Penguins energy. It probably wouldn’t behoove either team or player to play top-six minutes with Evgeni Malkin, but the Penguins have talented depth centers, including Jared McCann and eventually Nick Bjugstad. If Kovalchuk can provide some offensive pop, the Penguins overwhelming work ethic would be enhanced with a few more goals.
And it wouldn’t cost much. And, at minimum wage, the Penguins wouldn’t risk much.
According to KHL reporter Igor Eronko, Kovalchuk wants to play for a contender. Perhaps a team that will eventually have Sidney Crosby and Malkin will do the trick.
Kovalchuk will get to choose his next situation, even as the LA Kings are on the hook for his salary cap. And the Penguins should extend the offer to be that situation. In the worst-case scenario, the Penguins will have an extra forward who pick the top corner and not put them over the salary cap.
Low risk. Potential reward. Go for it.