As the 14 teams who didn’t make the playoffs can certainly attest, there is a fine line between making noise and sliding to irrelevance. One look no further than the Colorado Avalanche to realize that one off-season of poor decisions and a bad string of luck can complete derail a season beyond salvage. A solid signing can put you right back into the mix. Stagnation can mean failure, and of course, loss of fan interest as well as precious revenue.
This off-season, with the UFA class looking more sparse than ever, teams will be hunting for NHL talent on cheap contracts. Many teams will seek the help of the undrafted NCAAer, and with good reason. However, Montreal’s tactic of paying a steep contract for a KHL superstar has paid dividends, through the season and now in the playoffs. Alexander Radulov had his fair share of nay-sayers, as his experience with Nashville didn’t go particularly well. And an anti-Russian, anti-European bias does always seem to sneak into the conversation whenever overseas talent is concerned. Artemi Panarin had plenty of suitors, to be sure, but even he was compensated less than what he realistically deserved. In his first season, the young star tallied 30 goals and 77 points on a line with Patrick Kane. Not much of an adjustment faze.
Let’s look at a trio of names that have been, or should be, tossed into the ring for teams’ consideration in the near future:
Jan Kovar (C) – Metallurg Magnitogorsk
Kovar has been mentioned from time to time for years, as an intriguing top forward for the star-studded Magnitogorsk. Talks to come over to the NHL have unfortunately never gotten particularly serious. Kovar scored 63 points in 59 games this past year, lead the Gagarin Cup playoffs with 25 points, and is still a decently spry 27 years-old. The Czech-born center is listed at only 5’10”, but as we have seen with Vladimir Sobotka, size isn’t always a deal-breaker. He is known for his solid shot and ability to create chances from very little. His playmaking abilities have only gotten better with age. Although his World Championship point totals aren’t fantastic, he would be a low-risk addition for any fringe team in need of offensive flair, or depth up the middle.
Evgeny Dadonov (RW) – SKA St. Petersburg
The former Florida Panther has been nothing short of phenomenal for SKA in the past year. During the team’s title run, the forward pulled off Datsyuk-ian moves with relative ease. He has previous ties to Carolina, and whatever they could offer should be matched by any other bottom-feeding team in the division – this player has the serious potential to burn defensemen for years. He could also be a complete bust, like he was his first time through. But the maturity that comes with multiple playoff runs and being trusted in a leadership role shouldn’t be under-estimated. Even in light of the NHL’s decision to avoid the Olympics, Dadonov is expected to strongly consider a return to the league. His pricetag may be an issue, however. Here’s hoping the cost isn’t a sticking point, because his remarkable creativity would be a welcome sight on NHL ice.
Emil Garipov (G) – Ak Bars Kazan
Yes, the goalie market is flooded with capable tenders already. Yes, you’ve probably never heard of this guy. Yes, no team has any rumored interest of late. But franchises struggling with goalie depth would be bonkers to not at least pick up the phone on this kid with the statlines he’s put up. At 25 years-old, Garipov is just hitting his prime years as a netminder. He kept his team afloat yet again with another strong showing in a KHL career that has been remarkably strong. His career save percentage is well above .930 and he survived an absolute barrage of shots last season with veteran poise. Garipov is technically sharp and he exudes a confidence that is well beyond his years. He also never quits on a play, which can be evidenced by scores of highlights such as these. Worst case scenario – you acquire a backup who struggles. But Garipov has shown flashes of next-level athleticism and focus which suggest that he could be capable of making the leap.
Of course, the Olympic situation complicates any potential KHL hoppers this summer. How much of a deterrent the Pyeongchang decision will be for Europeans remains to be seen, but as Radulov evidences on a nightly basis, the rewards for thinking outside the box can be great indeed.