The Arizona Coyotes are still reportedly holding trade talks over Taylor Hall, but some alternative options may need to be explored if they can’t bring him to the desert.
While John Chayka’s speciality is in trades, the free agency market has one recent addition that may be worth taking a gamble on in the short-term.
Ilya Kovalchuk’s time with the LA Kings has come to an unceremonious end, with just 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 81 regular season games since signing a three-year, $6.25 million deal in 2017.
After Kovalchuk received the second half of his $5.3 million signing bonus this past weekend, the Russian forward and the Kings came to an understanding, with the organization placing him on unconditional waivers in order to terminate his contract.
This allowed the 2001 first-overall pick to become an unrestricted free agent, giving him flexibility to look for another challenge in the NHL or abroad.
This is where the Arizona Coyotes come in. The team is clearly looking to make additions on offense, with the hunt for Taylor Hall firmly encapsulating the hockey world in recent days, but there’s a real possibility that nothing comes to fruition.
If the team misses out on landing Hall, an approach for Kovalchuk should be a real consideration for Chayka.
The 36-year-old may be a shadow of his former self, and was certainly not worth his $6.25 million cap hit, but if he is still hoping to continue playing in the NHL then there may be some mutual benefits to be gained.
If Kovalchuk is willing to accept a league minimum contract for the remainder of the season, the Coyotes could be the ideal destination. In the desert, he would likely find himself playing more powerplay minutes and be put in a better position to succeed this season.
The Coyotes are finally in a position to push towards the playoffs and could benefit from having Kovalchuk’s experience and offensive talents available, especially in the latter stages of the season.
Since returning to the NHL, Kovalchuk has played at roughly a 43-point pace and is still capable of contributing at the NHL level. The Arizona Coyotes could do with having another option on offense that is capable of putting up points.
It would also be somewhat satisfying if the team is able to take Kovalchuk and turn him into a success in the desert, lauding it over their bitter rivals - especially if he accepts a low-cost contract.
Playing in the desert would allow Kovalchuk a chance to prove the rest of the league he can still produce at this level and may even lead to him earning a new contract in the summer, making it an intriguing situation for both parties.
If he signed to a minimal deal and succeeds, he has already earned his money this year and could have a chance to succeed somewhat in the playoffs before heading to free agency.
The team would benefit from his presence and skills and wouldn’t suffer from paying a huge contract, making this sort of pairing one that may work out, however unlikely it may ultimately be.