The NHL Trade Deadline has lost a lot of its lustre among the Edmonton Oiler fanbase this past decade. Due to a significant lack of success, most who follow the Oilers are used to seeing one of two strategies being implemented this time of the year. They either do absolutely nothing or they trade away a few pending free agents for middling draft picks.
Yet, there seems to be a different feeling around this year’s team. Edmonton is currently in a volatile playoff race in an airtight Pacific Division. They’ve been in a playoff spot for the majority of the season and, with their recent stretch of success, they are primed to be buyers at this year’s deadline.
While general manager Ken Holland may not have a history of buying big on deadline day, there is a sense that he will be more aggressive this time around. The team currently employs two of the league’s top scorers and could make some serious noise if they are able to make the playoffs. The prevailing rumour suggests that Holland will be on the lookout for two key pieces on the trade market: a top-six winger and a third-line centre.
This doesn’t come without its hurdles. The Oilers are still in the midst of a cap-crunch that limits the money that can be brought in on new contracts. The Oilers currently have $2.3 million of cap space. This certainly limits the available options, but there is one player who could be a perfect fit.
Enter Ilya Kovalchuk
One player who could potentially fill Edmonton’s needs as a top-six winger is Ilya Kovalchuk. The 36-year-old has been killing it since joining the Montreal Canadiens earlier this month, having put up 11 points in his first 14 games with the club. It’s a surprising turnaround for Kovalchuk as he struggled to produce for the Los Angeles Kings for the past season and a half, but it seems as though he has rediscovered parts of his game that made him one of the most sought-after unrestricted free agents of 2018.
His salary makes him an even more desirable target. After terminating his contract with the Kings earlier this season, Kovalchuk opted to sign for a measly $700,000 with the Canadiens in the hopes that he could take a run at the Stanley Cup. While the Canadiens have enjoyed individual success from their bargain pickup of Kovalchuk, it hasn’t translated to team success. Since acquiring him, the Canadiens have posted an 8-6-0 record, which, while not awful, will not cut it in the strong Atlantic Division.
Montreal’s struggles to keep pace in the playoff race has prompted many to ponder the possibility of them becoming sellers at this year’s deadline. At the top of the list of candidates that the Canadiens could offload is Kovalchuk, whose recent hot streak and attractive salary makes him an ideal rental candidate for a prospective playoff team.
What’s the Ask?
Reports from The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun suggest that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has already set the market price for anyone inquiring on Kovalchuk.
The fact that the Canadiens are still debating on whether or not to keep Kovalchuk shouldn’t surprise anyone. As we all know, he has been productive since joining the team and could be a good mentor for Montreal’s young forwards coming up both this season and the next.
If they do commit to becoming a seller I would put money on him being traded, as it makes more sense to get assets that will help the team’s future rather than hang onto a player that they might lose for nothing in the summer.
As for the asking price itself, a second-round pick is likely what it would take to land a rental of Kovalchuk’s calibre. It’s an ask that is a lot of teams will be willing to pay as they gamble on Kovalchuk continuing his production for the final stretch of the season and into the playoffs.
According to Sportsnet’s Eric Engels, the Edmonton Oilers are in fact one of the teams interested in acquiring Kovalchuk.
Engels also pointed out Edmonton’s interest in Kovalchuk is largely because of his affordable salary and that Holland has the draft picks needed to swing a deal with the Canadiens. The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames were mentioned as other interested parties.
Where Would He Fit?
If the Oilers do pull off a trade to acquire Kovalchuk, there is no doubt that he would find himself in the top-six, specifically with Connor McDavid and James Neal or Zack Kassian.
The reason for this lies in the fact that it seems as though the Oilers have finally found a consistent second line. The trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto has been magnificent since its formation last month and head coach Dave Tippett has been hesitant to break them up.
McDavid, on the other hand, has been left to fend for himself without much help on either of his wings. Kassian has levelled off recently in the days after his extension and Neal is out with an injury. During that time, Josh Archibald and Sam Gagner have been his most popular wingers who have been fine with McDavid but aren’t the type of players you want to play alongside a generational talent.
Kovalchuk could become a fantastic wingman to McDavid as he still possesses a fantastic shot and has always played the role of a triggerman throughout his career. There are concerns around his footspeed as he gets older, but if a guy like Patrick Maroon can keep up with No. 97 then I have no doubt that Kovalchuk can as well.
It seems like there might not be a better target for the Oilers than Kovalchuk. His salary would easily fit within the team’s structure and the role he plays is exactly the type of thing that Edmonton is looking for. Add this to an asking price that is reasonable and doable for Holland and it becomes a no-brainer.
If Kovalchuk can come in and become a regular scorer with McDavid, it might be enough to guarantee the Oilers the division crown.