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Russian Roulette: Should the Islanders chase Ilya?

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The pros and cons of a Lamoriello/Kovalchuk reunion

The most anticipated Russian Gold Medalist to come overseas since Ivan Drago
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When Lou Lamoriello took over hockey operations for the New York Islanders there was much speculation that the team would have interest in signing Ilya Kovalchuk, who played for Lamoriello for four seasons with the Devils before “retiring” and heading back to Russia to play. Kovalchuk left $77 million on the table.

Kovalchuk was interviewed by Darren Dreger and spoke highly of his former boss. “He’s one of those guys you want to always keep in touch with and ask him for advice ...he’s a great man.”

Under the terms of the retirement, the Devils retained his NHL rights until he turned 35, which was on April 15. In anticipation for his NHL return, Dreger reports that Kovalchuk’s negotiations will be handled by CAA, who happens to handle someone who Lamoriello is interested in signing, John Tavares .

Some, most notably, Ottawa Sun’s Don Brennan, could not imagine that Lamoriello would want a reunion with the Russian forward.

Why would the Islanders, who had one of the most prolific top-six forward cores in the league last season, be interested in a 35-year-old who, according to Dreger, hopes to land a two or three-year package, similar to the agreement Patrick Marleau signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer, which averages $6.25 million per year?

It makes sense for a few reasons; it also could have disastrous long-term cap ramifications.

If Tavares leaves the only organization he has known, they’ll need a new high-end forward and money will not be an issue. Kovalchuk sure would look good on Mat Barzal’s line. Thirty-five goals for the 35-year-old is not out of the question. Anthony Beauvillier would move off of Barzal’s wing and center another line.

Cap Implications if Tavares Stays

If Plans A, B, or C work, and Tavares returns, is where it could get interesting with the cap, not for the 2018-19 season, but beyond.

Lamoriello could potentially lose 65 goals in Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle, who are both unrestricted free agents following next season. Lee can easily fetch $6 million per year with his next contract. Eberle, who signed a six-year, $36 million-dollar deal with the Oilers in 2012, likely will not take a pay cut. Negotiations with both forwards can begin on July 1.

Let’s not forget that Ryan Pulock needs a contract this summer, Beauvillier is now eligible for a contract extension and Barzal will be eligible for one following next season.

Lou is going to be busy.