DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings are among the teams interested in signing Russian star Ilya Kovalchuk.
That's according to hockey insider Darren Dreger, who tweeted Tuesday that Kovalchuk visited with the San Jose Sharks this week, but that's not the only team interested in signing him.
Kovalchuk, 35, has not played in the NHL since he left the league after the 2012-13 season. He had just helped the New Jersey Devils to a conference championship in 2012. That was a couple years after he signed a 17-year contract with the Devils.
During the 2013 offseason, Kovalchuk bailed on that contract and decided to sign a four-year deal with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL. He has won two KHL championships with the team, one of which was with former Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk who signed a two-year contract with SKA Saint Petersburg in 2016.
Can Kovalchuk still produce?
Ten years ago, Kovalchuk was a dominant goal scorer in the NHL, ripping off a series of 40 and 50-goal seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers. He joined the Devils in 2009 and helped make them a playoff team once again.
Kovalchuk's KHL career has been stellar, too. He scored 31 goals in 53 games this past season and 32 goals in 60 games the season before.
The KHL has a much shorter season than the NHL. While NHL teams play an 82-game season, the KHL teams play only 60.
The question is can Kovalchuk still play at an NHL pace? The North American league is often considered more physically-demanding. Making the transition back from Russia to the NHL might not be the easiest for anyone, even for one of the world's purist goal scorers like Kovalchuk.
Why come back to the NHL?
Kovalchuk has never won a Stanley Cup. He has been vocal about wanting to win what is still considered the top trophy in hockey.
He's won pretty much everything else a hockey player can win: He won an Olympic gold medal this past year, he has his KHL championships, he has two World Cup gold medals and even a junior World Cup gold medal. Moreover, he was named KHL playoff MVP in 2015.
He would be coming back to the NHL to win a Stanley Cup, nothing less.
The Red Wings aren't exactly "Cup contenders" right now. They are a team with aging contracts, a diminished blue line and veteran goaltending. General Manager Ken Holland has had some higher draft picks in the past few years, and there are young stars budding on Detroit's roster, but the Stanley Cup is not something anyone would expect them to contend for in the next few years -- maybe even the next five.
Kovalchuk turned 35 in April. He's probably not going to play long into his 40s like Jaromir Jagr did. The idea that he would join a team like the Red Wings, who are working to find a new identity, is nearly preposterous. He's most likely much more interested in a team like the Sharks, who may have a window left open in the next few years to take a run at a Cup.
But let's say he did consider Detroit. The Red Wings need the goal scoring, of course, if he can bring that. They might be able to offer him a decent three-year deal and guaranteed top-line minutes. He'd be the star in Detroit, outright. Again, only if he produced.
The Red Wings have a history of success with Russian players, no doubt. Is it insane to think that the only reason Kovalchuk wold be interested in coming to Detroit would be because his teammate Datsyuk suggested it to him? Could this mean Datsyuk is considering a return? Is this just some crazy dream scenario? Might we throw 48-year-old Sergei Fedorov in the mix, too?
I digress. There are so many better options for him in the NHL than the Red Wings. It's just plain silly to dream up these scenarios ... right?
The reality is Kovalchuk is coming back to the NHL and the team with which he signs automatically gains a more threatening offense.