Thoughts on Thursday: Ilya Kovalchuk, Conference Finals, and GM of the Year

1. With Bantering Points being done for the forseeable future, I need some sort of column to keep myself busy every now and then. Granted, a weekly “thoughts” piece isn’t going to bring the hard hitting analysis that I usually intend to write, but it’s something to keep the mind fresh as the dog days of summer approach.

While there’s still nearly another month of hockey left to be played, the time will come when the playoffs are over, the draft has come and gone, and the biggest news in free agency is when marginal NHLer’s get tired of waiting around for a contract in North America and make the trek across the pond. In other words, the worst time of the year. But we’ve still got a month and half until that time comes. So enjoy the last bits of the 2016-2017 season, because I know I will.

2. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get right into the news. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman passed along an interesting bit about Ilya Kovalchuk in his latest edition of 30 Thoughts:

15. Also wondering if the Islanders will make a hard push for Ilya Kovalchuk. It makes sense for them, although they will have to convince him they are going for it now. Russian sources believe Kovalchuk had serious interest in the Rangers, but a) I’m not sure of their interest, and b) I’m not sure they could pull it off if they wanted to. Sounds like Florida has also inquired. But, if he was interested in the New York area, why wouldn’t the Islanders try?

This is interesting for a few reasons. First of all, hearing that Kovalchuk was interested in the Rangers isn’t something that anyone was expecting. I suppose it isn’t too surprising, given that he can retain a sense of familiarity from his days with the New Jersey Devils. Unfortunately (for luckily depending on who you ask) there are a number of major roadblocks that’ll prevent Kovalchuk from skating on Broadway next season.

The most obvious one is the salary cap gymnastics it would require in order to accommodate Kovalchuk’s new contract. Given his more successful track record than Alex Radulov in North America before leaving and playing four seasons in Russia, along with the fact Radulov turned out to be a massive success in Montreal this past season, Kovalchuk is likely to command a pricier contract than the one year, $5.75 Million pact that lured Radulov back to the best league in the world. Barring major moves, such as a Rick Nash or Derek Stepan trade, creating the space for Kovalchuk would be impossible.

Even if it was possible, the Rangers would still have to work out a deal with the Devils to actually acquire Kovalchuk, and the odds of that are slim to none. Seeing as how the two teams have made exactly zero trades with each other since the Devils arrived in 1982, there isn’t exactly much history of moves between the two teams.

In addition to that, why would Ray Shero make a move to help a division rival when he has other options. Unless Jeff Gorton were to drastically overpay to acquire Kovalchuk, Shero will have no shortage of suitors lining up to acquire the Russian forward. He’ll have his pick of the litter of offers he’ll receive, and you can be sure that whatever the Rangers are willing to give up will be far down his list.

3. With the Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators two games away from meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals, now is as good a time as ever to reflect on how the Rangers could have fared. Credit to Ottawa for keeping the series competitive up to this point, but last night’s game notwithstanding, it’s clear which team is the defending Stanley Cup Champion and which team is enjoying a Cinderella run.

But that’s the thing about reaching the conference finals: no matter how badly a team is outclassed on the ice, all it takes is a couple of pucks bouncing the right way from playing for the greatest trophy in sports. Just as an example, here’s what each team’s chances looked like prior to last night’s action:

Despite being one of the worst teams in the entire sixteen team playoff field, and the worst conference finalist, Ottawa is essentially looking at a 1/5 chance at bring the Cup back to Canada. Luck has always been one of the biggest factors in deciding the results short samples, but there hasn’t been such an extreme example of luck playing a role. During the regular season, the Senators posted the 2nd worst Corsi For% (13-14 Canadiens), the worst Expected Goals For%, and worst Goals For% at even strength among conference finalists since the 2014 Playoffs.

Although Guy Boucher’s group has managed to turn around their performance slightly through two and a half rounds of post-season play, there are still some signs pointing to an eventual collapse. After removing their one empty netter that nailed the final coffin in the Blueshirts season, the Senators were sitting with an even goal differential prior to last night’s action, despite being 9-5. To their credit, they came out and overwhelmed the Penguins yesterday to reclaim the series lead, but it was their first convincing win of the playoffs.

They had three regulation wins in fourteen games, none of which were by more than one goal. Suffice to say that the hockey gods have smiled upon Chris Neil, Dion Phaneuf, Alex Burrows, and the rest of the Ottawa’s squad. A few bounces the other way, and they’d be on the putting greens right now.

4. Speaking of conference finalists, half of the men who put together those teams have been named as finalists for General Manager of the Year. David Poile (Nashville) and Pierre Dorion (Ottawa) are among the finalists, as is Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli. The award is voted on by “general managers, a panel of league executives, and print and broadcast media following the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs”

First of all, Peter Chiarelli being nominated for any sort of reward for building a team is laughable at best. Since last year’s NHL Awards, the most notable things Chiarelli has done are trading Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, signing Milan Lucic and Kris Russell, (to an NHL contract by the way, still mind-boggling that somebody bit on him) and shipping out a former 1st Overall selection for a 3rd Round Pick.

Now I might not be a good hockey man, but that doesn’t prevent me from recognizing that Chiarelli’s last eleven months isn’t worthy of praise on any level, let alone being considered as the best general manager in the NHL. It’s amazing what a generational talent can do for a team.

As for the other two, there could have been worse choices, so at least there’s that. The P.K. Subban trade was obviously a major coup for Poile, but other than that he’s been quiet. Poile acquired Cody McLeod, Vernon Fiddler, and P-A Parenteau to bolster his team’s depth, but the Subban trade stands out. Overall, Poile’s moves were a major net positive for the Predators, so he stands out as an acceptable choice.

Dorion stands out as an interesting choice in that he’s taken a very different approach from Poile. While many people throughout the hockey world, myself included, figured their deadline deals were the equivalent of throwing money away. The Senators have gotten what they wanted out of swapping Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard, and the same could be said for the rest of their minor moves. Bringing in Mike Condon, Tommy Wingels, Alex Burrows, and Viktor Stalberg have all helped the team along the margins, so it’s hard to argue that the ends don’t justify the means as of now. Those moves will hurt Ottawa in the long run, but their time to win is now.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Hopefully that was something interesting for everyone to read.