Could Stars sign top Russian forward Kovalchuk?

Questioning the world around you usually makes for a richer experience. Sometimes it makes you feel crazy. The greatest advancements in human history stem from the question “why not…?” We’re going to apply that profound question to attainable (and maybe slightly unattainable, but possibly attainable) NHL players who could theoretically improve the Dallas Stars. We aren’t solving environmental problems, but we’re going to put “why not…?” to some marginally good use.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Dallas Stars left winger. Why not?

Over the course of his North American career, Kovalchuk established himself as one of the NHL's best players. The last time we saw him in the NHL was in his age 29 season with the New Jersey Devils in 2013. Kovalchuk played in 37 games, recorded 31 points, and then returned home to Russia to play for SKA St. Petersburg. Including 36 KHL games he played prior to the 2013 lockout-shortened NHL season Kovalchuk has recorded 264 points in 245 games including 78 in 60 this past season.

The big forward can clearly still play. He also seems to want to come back to the NHL. That situation is a strange one; when Kovalchuk “retired” to go back to the KHL his massive cap-circumventing 15 year contract was terminated, which actually saved the Devils severe future headaches. I’ll spare you the details why (though if you’re interested, here you go), but the Devils have a salary cap penalty of $250,000 until the 2025 season. Since the contract was terminated he’s technically a free agent, but the Devils still hold his rights.

Even more confusing is the fact that he can’t be selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the coming expansion draft despite the Devils holding his rights because he’s on the voluntary retirement list despite his agent making it well known he wants to come back. The entire situation is exhausting. All that really matters is that he wants to come back to the NHL, and the Devils need to work out a sign and trade deal to facilitate his return to any other team besides themselves.

For the Stars, Kovalchuk checks a lot of boxes. He should come with a short term commitment (speculation has the potential contract as two or three year deal at around $6 million per year). He fits the win now mode. He’s very good. He is a proven playoff performer. And the cost shouldn’t be absurd in trade. The late first round pick the Stars acquired for Patrick Eaves should at least get them in the conversation.

We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the Stars' defense, for good reason, but the scoring was poor too. If the Stars have designs on making and doing damage in the playoffs they need to get offense down the lineup. Putting Kovalchuk on the left wing with Jason Spezza could potentially give the Stars one of the better second lines in the entire league.

Another exponent in favor of Kovalchuk is the Val Nichushkin factor. There exists a decent chance that Nichushkin comes back to the NHL for the upcoming season. NHL clubs tend to like having multiple Russian players together. A veteran Russian offensive dynamo like Kovalchuk could provide a very good mentor for the still (hopefully) developing Nichushkin.

If you’re the Stars and turning over every stone trying to improve the roster the due diligence has probably already been done on Kovalchuk. Whether they ultimately decide he’s a fit or not remains to be seen, but on the outside it sure is fun to think about.

For more delicious offseason speculation, follow Josh Lile on Twitter at @JoshL1220.

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