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New York Islanders

Will Garth Snow go after Ilya Kovalchuk again?

Kovalchuk
(Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

The NHL offseason got a little more interesting when the news broke that Ilya Kovalchuk has designs on returning to the NHL. The Devils still own his rights, but reports suggest that the 400-goal scorer is hoping to play elsewhere. Once again, the Kovalchuk rumors have begun.

In his 30 Thoughts column this week Elliotte Friedman speculated that the Islanders could be in the hunt for the KHL star. The theory here is that Kovalchuk wants to play in New York. So, why not play for the Islanders?

Also wondering if the Islanders will make a hard push for Ilya Kovalchuk. It makes sense for them, although they will have to convince him they are going for it now. Russian sources believe Kovalchuk had serious interest in the Rangers, but a) I’m not sure of their interest, and b) I’m not sure they could pull it off if they wanted to. Sounds like Florida has also inquired. But, if he was interested in the New York area, why wouldn’t the Islanders try?

Kovalchuk rumors are nothing new to New York Islanders fans. Back in 2010, before Kovalchuk signed his illegal contract with the Devils, the Islanders were one of the teams pursuing the Russian sniper.

“When there are top free agents available, we’re going to go after them,” Garth Snow told Newsday‘s Katie Strang the last time the Islanders were linked to Kovalchuk. “Obviously, if we make the call, we have interest. We have interest in the top free agents now and we will in the future.”

Well, the future is here and Kovalchuk could soon be available — though he isn’t technically a free agent.

Snow already has a lot on his plate this offseason. He has to navigate the expansion draft, make a final decision on Jaroslav Halak and, most important, he has to convince John Tavares that the Islanders are competitors. The face of the franchise will be an unrestricted free agent after next season.

Can Snow help his own cause by publicly going for Kovalchuk again? It’s difficult to say. It’s also difficult to guess what the asking price for Kovalchuk’s rights will be and what kind of contract he’ll be looking for. The Devils need help on the blue line and could use another young forward. But will Snow be willing to move key assets for what most consider to be a big gamble?

Kovalchuk represents star power. He’s one of the greatest goal scorers of his generation. In his last full NHL season he put up 83 points and this year in the KHL he put up 78 points in 60 games. Kovalchuk has 417 goals in 816 NHL games. When a player like that is available, even at age 34, you make some calls. Especially if your team is hurting for offense.

The Islanders had the third-worst power play in the league last season. If Kovalchuk returns to the NHL he will be sixth among active players in career power-play goals (138). He’s a right-handed shot and Tavares is left-handed. You get the idea. It could be a lethal combination that helps to transform the Islanders’ special teams and even-strength offense.

But how much should Snow be willing to gamble on it?

Whatever moves Snow makes this offseason he will make with Tavares’ next contract in mind. He has to. And one thing is certain: the captain’s next contract isn’t going to carry a $5.5 million cap hit. This time around the Islanders will have to pay the former 1st overall pick like a superstar.

The Islanders are going through a lot of changes: a new coaching staff, hoping that Andrew Ladd’s contract wasn’t a mistake, chaos in the crease and uncertainty about where home ice will be. Is pursuing Kovalchuk one headache that Snow will try to avoid? Or will the Islanders boss be tempted to give his team — and captain — the superstar wing it has been after for years?

Only time will tell.

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