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Should Red Wings make a push for Ilya Kovalchuk?

With the NHL season officially over, we now are in the speculation season when everyone attempts to determine where free agents will sign and what trades will be made at the draft.

Early Tuesday morning, TSN insider Darren Dreger tweeted something that caught my eye.

That’s right, the same Detroit Red Wings that have been touting the youth movement ever since the season ended are pushing for a 35-year-old winger who hasn’t been in the NHL since 2013.

Just two months ago, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said:

“Obviously very disappointing season. The theme going forward is the future, it’s rebuild, it’s young kids. But young kids put into the lineup when they are ready to play at this level. I believe that you need to have some veterans on the club that are good role models. We’ve got those.”

So, they’ve got the veterans who will be good role models, why do they need Ilya Kovalchuk?

The Red Wings aren’t anywhere close to competing for a Stanley Cup, and according to KHL assistant coach Dmitri Yushkevich, Kovalchuk is coming to the NHL to win a Stanley Cup, via The Athletic’s Craig Custance (paywall).

So, it doesn’t make sense from Kovalchuk’s standpoint, but as Custance notes, the Red Wings could sign him looking to trade him to a contender at the deadline. This makes sense for Kovalchuk, as he can determine which teams have the best chance at making a run and give the Red Wings a trade list as part of his contract.

However, Custance also notes he wants to be part of a winning team from the start, not a rental that comes in at the end of the season to lift a program over the top. If that is the case, signing with Detroit makes no sense for him; he could simply sign with a team this summer he thinks gives him the best chance to win.

Also, in order to sign Kovalchuk, the Red Wings probably would have to dedicate at least $5 million and maybe even as much as $6 million. With five restricted free agents — and possibly re-signing Mike Green, which also is a bad idea — they don’t have a lot of wiggle room.

It’s no secret the Red Wings have quite the logjam at defense, and it’s not much better on offense. Assuming the Red Wings don’t re-sign David Booth and sign all of their restricted free agents (Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Martin Frk and Anthony Mantha), that gives Detroit 12 forwards with Michael Rasmussen, Evgeny Svechnikov and Dominic Turgeon still in the fray to make the team out of training camp.

Do you really want Kovalchuk taking up one of those roster spots and stunting the development of one or more of their prospects? Sticking veterans in the lineup over young prospects is how the Red Wings got into the situation they are in now. Granted, they were trading for veterans in order to make a playoff push, but now that the playoffs are a longshot, they need to embrace the rebuild, like the Toronto Maple Leafs did, and give the young prospects more playing time and responsibility.

Of course, the Red Wings could make a trade to free up a roster spot. Athanasiou’s name has been thrown around, but knowing Holland’s trade history, it’s not a guarantee.

Another thing to consider is how will he perform after being away from the NHL for the past five seasons? Sure, he’s been producing at a more than point-per-game pace in the KHL, but success in the KHL doesn’t necessarily mean success in the NHL, especially for someone approaching 40.

Kovalchuk scored 31 goals last season over 53 games, which according to Rob Vollman’s translation factors, would put him around 38 goals in the NHL.

Any team would welcome 38 goals from a 35-year-old, but these are translations, not projections. There are a lot of other factors these translations do not consider, including age, team, usage, random variation, etc.

So, while signing a player like Kovalchuk would be sexy and get fans excited for the upcoming season, Detroit needs to stay away from him and embrace the youth movement.


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