Ilya Kovalchuk is the best player in this year's free agent class without question. He is a very solid player who has scored more goals since the lockout other than Ovechkin and the most goals since he was drafted.
The knock on Kovalchuk has always been on his defense, that he just didn't care about it. Lou Lamoriello has shown that is a myth by attempting to sign the Russian stud to a contract extension, and we know New Jersey is built on defense. In fact the Devils have a habit of taking one dimensional forwards and making them 2 way forwards (see Zach Parise).
Nobody will ever call him the greatest defensive forward in the world but when you can score like that, who gives a damn? Kovalchuk is another cornerstone the Leafs can build their team around along with Kessel, Phaneuf, and Kadri. The best part is he will not even cost us a player in a trade so we can keep Tomas Kaberle on our team and get even better. Furthermore it was reported that one of the teams Ilya Kovalchuk wanted to go to at the trade deadline is Toronto (presumably because of the big market attraction).
So what is stopping the Leafs from signing Kovalchuk? The Devils are trying to re-sign him, but more importantly the Kings have offered more money than anyone else. Burke refuses to pay Kovalchuk $8 million per year, after all he needs to sign extensions next year on Gunnarson, Kaberle, Schenn and possibly more.
The beauty of the cap hit though is we have a lot of depth on offense now with Armstrong, Versteeg, Kessel etc, and yet we still have a lot of cap space to sign an impact forward like Koavalchuk. The only problem the Leafs have is scoring goals, and if we get Kovalchuk that problem all but disappears. Now if only we could find him a set up man we'd be all set, keep your fingers crossed that Bozak becomes a great set up man.