Reports earlier this week from NHL insider Elliotte Friedman are leaving Toronto Maple Leafs fans a little confused. For the first time in a long time, a top free-agent is interested in joining the Leafs.
The news broke of former NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk’s intention to return to the NHL earlier last month, but Friedman’s report this week that the player had narrowed down his list of destinations piqued interest further. One assumes that his history in New Jersey with current Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello has something to do with the speculation and if the rumors are to be believed, then the Leafs could be in on the Kovachuk derby.
Of course, they’d first need to trade for the 34 year-old as his rights are still owned by then Devils and then sign him to a big money deal. Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t a free roster pick up. Then there’s the question of Kovalchuk’s level of play. While he had a tremendous season in which he produced 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games en route to winning the Gagarin Cup for SKA St. Petersburg, Kovalchuk was a member of easily the most dominating team in Russian hockey. Whether he was the driving force behind this, or a benefactor because of it, is mostly a matter of opinion amongst KHL insiders.
The only scenario in which the Leafs could benefit from bringing Kovalchuk on board is by using him as leverage to facilitate another transaction. Namely, he frees up the ability to move a player like James vanRiemsdyk for a defenseman. Can Kovalchuk replace vanRiemsdyk’s point production? Maybe. Does he carry more risk? Yep. There’s no doubt that such a move would be a gamble and has the chance to blow up in the team’s face.
What’s your take? Certainly where there’s smoke there’s fire, so I wouldn’t dismiss Friedman’s rumor entirely? But, do you see a fit between the Leafs and Kovalchuk?