The Vegas Golden Knights will be able to fill out their roster in the near future, mainly through the NHL Expansion draft on June 21st. Free Agency and potential trades will also play a huge role in creating an identity for the Sin City franchise. Reid Duke, a developmental prospect, is the first player under contract for Vegas. The signing of Vadim Shipachyov, a Russian star center from the KHL, was a big splash. Now all eyes are on Ilya Kovalchuk, who recently expressed his desire to return to the NHL.
From KHL to the NHL?
According to Jay Grossman, Kovalchuk’s agent, “Ilya asked me to make his intention to explore the options to return to the NHL known to Ray Shero, which has been done.” Shero, the GM for the New Jersey Devils, will surely keep all of his options open. In order for Kovalchuk to be allowed back into the NHL on a team other than the Devils, owners for all the teams must approve. Kovalchuk signed an enormous deal back in 2010 with the Devils, which included $100 million over 15 years. However, just three years into the deal, Kovalchuk would “retire” from the NHL. He then promptly signed with Saint Petersburg of the KHL in Russia.
It would not be shocking if Shero holds some type of animosity towards the star player that spurned his franchise. Kovalchuk scored 417 goals in his NHL career with the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils, averaging exactly a point per game through 816 contests. With the Vegas Golden Knights needing to form an identity, what are the chances Kovalchuk ends up in Sin City? Would it be a good move for the newest NHL franchise?
Ilya Kovalchuk on a team other than Devils?
Kovalchuk is 34-years-old and is on the Voluntary Retirement List. Therefore, the only option to play with a team other than New Jersey is through a sign-and-trade deal. Technically speaking if all owners agreed, Kovalchuk would be free to sign with any team. The Devils will not let this happen, as getting Kovalchuk back as trade bait is very advantageous.
Teams that are vying for firepower to contend for the Stanley Cup will show heavy interest in Kovalchuk. July 1st is the earliest the Russian star could sign a new deal with the Devils, which marks the beginning of free agency. Free agency occurs after the Expansion Draft and the Rookie Entry Draft. Kovalchuk being a potential expansion draft target for Vegas is not likely. The Devils could potentially sign-and-trade Kovalchuk to Vegas to ensure the Golden Knights will pick a particular player. He could also wait until the end of the 2018 season and become an unrestricted free agent.
Kovalchuk, Golden Knights a good match?
Being an expansion team that needs to build a roster, the Golden Knights will be rumored as a potential landing spot for Ilya Kovalchuk. He is a former teammate of Vadim Shipachyov, as both played for Saint Petersburg in the KHL. At 34, Kovalchuk will want to play for contending teams and Vegas will most likely not become one for a few years. Kovalchuk could agree to play for the expansion team if he got a more lucrative contract. That would be a risky move for Vegas, and contract figures will play a huge factor. Considering Vegas needs firepower and talent, getting Kovalchuk would be decent. However, if the team were to lose early and often, signing an expensive “win-now” type of player will set the franchise back. It’s a high risk, high reward situation that seems fitting for a franchise based in Las Vegas.