There is no stronger incantation in hockey right now than the name Kovalchuk. Perhaps in a few days it might be supplanted by Shattenkirk, but for now Ilya Kovalchuk paired up with Toronto Maple Leafs brings the fans (and the bloggers) running.

It is rumour season. And when Elite Prospects mistook a speculative article for a rumour for about half an hour, all of Leafs Twitter frothed up at the idea that James van Riemsdyk was on his way to California for a defenceman.  So approach rumours and speculation with caution! (Remember last year when Alex Radulov was totally going to sign with the Leafs?)

Dos and Don’ts of NHL Rumour Mongering

Recently, a Twitter report said that Alexander Medvedev, the head of SKA St. Petersberg, indicated Kovalchuk had changed his mind about playing in the NHL again, that he was staying in Russia to play on the Olympic team.

The NHL is still firmly stating that there will be no NHL participation in the Olympics, and the All-Star game in Tampa is a go.

Enter Elliotte Friedman:

“There were reports this week that Ilya Kovalchuk would stay in the KHL and not come back to North America,” Friedman said during Saturday night’s broadcast. “Word out of the Scouting Combine is that is not the case, that Kovalchuk is still very much interested in playing in the NHL next season.”

And then Friedman said the other magic word:

“I won’t be surprised if some of the interest comes from people who know him—maybe like a Peter DeBoer of San Jose, Martin Brodeur in St. Louis, possibly even a Lou Lamoriello in Toronto,” Friedman said on Saturday.

That’s new, actually, including Toronto in this list of potential destinations fro Kovalchuk.  But speculation is easy, and all you need is some sort of plausible hook to let you say the word Toronto and whatever name is in the news together in a sentence. To be clear, that’s all this is, speculation about where the Devils might be able to trade Kovalchuk after they sign him.

The simplest possible end result for Kovalchuk’s “will he, won’t he” dance this time around is for him to play a year with SKA, and then test the UFA market in the NHL next year.  There’s a risk in that plan.  If his 2015-2017 season with SKA that saw him score 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games was a fluke and he regresses to his average (1.08 PPG over his KHL career, compared to 1.3 in 2016-2017), he might not get such a big contract next year.

But Kovalchuk would have more freedom to choose.  He could have all sorts of teams dancing on the end of a string, not just the Devils.

The second most obvious possibility is that Kovalchuk signs with the Devils and plays there until the deadline when, if he’s doing well, he would fetch New Jersey a big return.  Shero is being a little bit disingenuous when he claims to be powerless.  He could insist on that as the condition of signing Kovalchuk to a deal.

And of course, a sign and trade is possible where Kovalchuk approves the trade in advance of the signing.

Why would the Leafs do that? They would need to give up assets to make the trade and then pay the man.  He is a 34 year old left winger who might still have a great scoring touch, or he might just have been riding the wave of the most souped-up hockey team to ever hit the ice in the KHL.  He is hardly the only forward on that team to have had a career year this season.

His only purpose to the Leafs would be to facilitate one of those speculative trades for van Riemsdyk.  While it might be nice to improve on defence via trade, I’m not sure upping the age of your about to be UFA left winger really solves the problem a trade of that nature causes.  You need a long term replacement who can put up points like JvR puts up points.  Kovalchuk would be an expensive temp who might not be up to the job.

If the Leafs believe they have the long-term replacement in their system already, and he just needs some time to get to first-line scorer level, an expensive temp might be worth it.  But Friedman never said any of that.  He just said Kovalchuk might want to go to a team run by a guy he knows.

I think Kovalchuk is 34 and wants to go to a team that can, for sure, contend for the cup right now.  And barring that, an Olympic medal and another year of SKA-sized salary is a good deal.

What do you think?

Is Kovalchuk worth signing?

Yes! Goals, goals, goals!197
No, come on, no more old guys, youth all the way.1085
For a year? Sure.480
No, just trade JvR and put my favourite prospect in there.361