How the tables have turned already for Ilya Kovalchuk. The veteran forward was unemployed entering the new year after having his contract terminated by the Los Angeles Kings. Despite his decorated history in pro hockey, he was left scouting the market for a minimum contract with a team that maybe had a chance at the postseason in 2019-20. He landed in Montreal, signing a one-year, pro-rated $700K contract with a team heading in the wrong direction for playoff contention because that was his best option at the time. Just two weeks later, Kovalchuk’s stock has skyrocketed. The 36-year-old has eight points in eight games with the Canadiens and has looked phenomenal, especially compared to his play in L.A. When he first started scoring, many Habs fans were excited at the prospect of the team flipping him for assets at the trade deadline.
While this remains a distinct possibility, as Kovalchuk continues to produce many other are asking whether Montreal should instead look to re-sign the winger. Not only has Kovalchuk been an impressive offensive contributor, but he provides the veteran presence and star power that the team is lacking in its forward corps, which plays a part in why Kovalchuk has been such a hit with fans so early in his tenure. Yet, Kovalchuk has been so successful in such a short time with the Canadiens, that his camp is already thinking about cashing in, mere weeks after settling for the smallest NHL contract possible. When asked about the prospect of Kovalchuk re-signing in Montreal, agent Pat Brisson told TVA Sports that it is too early to talk extension. While he admits that Kovalchuk is enjoying his time with the team, Brisson states that the focus is only on making the playoffs, which – when spoken by an agent – is a strong indication that Kovlachuk will be looking to test the market or at least continue to drive up his price before talking contract with Montreal. A trade would also change the status quo and could afford Kovalchuk the opportunity to improve his stock even more with a postseason appearance, which seems unlikely in Montreal this season. While the veteran star is not going to land a long-term contract this season, his sudden resurgence all but guarantees that he will be back in the NHL next season and making significantly more than his current $700K cap hit.
- Ilya Sorokin is a name that has long been tied to the NHL, despite the player never having set foot on pro ice in North America. The New York Islanders prospect has long been one of the best goalies in the KHL, even at just 24 years old, yet he has been reluctant to sign with the team and commit to coming overseas. Reports earlier this season were that Sorokin wanted a clear shot to a guaranteed NHL job and has not been happy with the situation in New York, first with Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner last year, now Greiss and Semyon Varlamov this year, and at least Varlamov signed for several more years. Those reports indicated that Sorokin intended to stay in Russia unless traded by the Islanders. Some subsequent rumors believed that the team was considering moving Sorokin’s rights as a result. However, when KHL insider Igor Eronko approached Sorokin about the topic, a different sentiment came from the horse’s mouth. Sorokin expressed that he was surprised to read the stories about his trade demands and that the team was looking into moving him. He stated that he and the Islanders have a different understanding and he has not been told that the status quo has changed. Don’t be surprised if the Russian star remains Islanders’ property through the trade deadline after all.
- The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa writes that David Backes has five choices after being waived and demoted by the Boston Bruins. One option that might come as a surprise, not as a suggestion but as a concrete theory, is that Backes could retire rather than accept his assignment. Shinzawa reports that Backes seriously considered retirement after his concussion earlier this season, but was assured by a concussion expert that it was safe for him to return to action. Yet, after Backes failed to return to an NHL-caliber level of play, could he decide to play it safe and call it quits? He would forego the remaining salary on his contract, but would protect himself from the risk of long-term harm with another injury, one that would especially be a shame while merely competing at the AHL level. Shinzawa suggests that Backes could instead decline his assignment and see his contract terminated, which would make him a free agent where he could at least try to find a worthwhile job elsewhere in the NHL. The other option is that he simply accepts his assignment to AHL Providence, which could also lead to a trade request down the road or further consideration of retirement or contract termination before the end of next season.