NHL Rumors: Top Buzz Regarding Matt Duchene, Ilya Kovalchuk and More

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2017

Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene is seen against the Columbus Blue Jackets during an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2016. Colorado won 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Paul Vernon/Associated Press

The NHL's free-agent chaos began Saturday, with many of the league's 31 teams cutting checks in an effort to improve, but there are still options available on the trade market.

This year's free-agent market is fairly light in terms of top-end talent. However, the same can't necessarily be said for players who are rumored to be available via trades. Because of that, teams in need of big-time acquisitions will likely have to swing deals.

As free-agent signings continue to filter in, here is the latest chatter surrounding some of the top players who could be on the move this offseason.


Matt Duchene

Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene has been the subject of constant rumors since the end of the 2016-17 season, and that hasn't changed with the start of free agency.

TSN's Darren Dreger reported Friday that both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators had submitted offers to the Avs for Duchene.

B.D. Gallof of the Fourth Period reported Saturday that the Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes were the teams most likely to land Duchene.

According to NHLNumbers.com, Duchene has two years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $6 million, which means now is likely the time when he will garner the most value in a trade.

Unfortunately for Colorado, Duchene is coming off a down year that saw him register just 18 goals and 23 assists for 41 points to go along with a minus-34 rating.

Duchene is a five-time 20-goal scorer, however, and it can be argued his poor production was influenced by the Avalanche's struggles as a team.

The 26-year-old is a two-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, and he could benefit greatly from being surrounded by more talent.

Columbus could offer Duchene the opportunity to play alongside the likes of Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno, among others.

Meanwhile, Nashville reached the Stanley Cup Final and has a top-flight group of defensemen that excels at moving into the play offensively.

Duchene didn't perform at an All-Star level last season, but there is reason to believe he can return to that provided he lands in the right situation.


Ilya Kovalchuk

Winger Ilya Kovalchuk has spent the past four seasons in the KHL, but there is talk he could make his NHL return in 2017-18.

Kovalchuk is still technically under contract with the New Jersey Devils, meaning he would either have to come back to play for them or convince the Devils to trade him.

TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported Saturday that the Devils weren't close on working out a trade involving Kovalchuk. LeBrun then added that Kovalchuk has interest in playing for the Blue Jackets, New York Rangers or Toronto Maple Leafs if he returns.

The Devils signed Kovalchuk to a 15-year, $100 million contract in 2010, and he carries a cap hit of $6,666,667, according to Spotrac.

Kovalchuk last played in the NHL in 2012-13, when he produced to the tune of 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points in 37 games.

The 34-year-old was selected by the Atlanta Thrashers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NHL draft, and he went on to become one of the premier goal scorers of his time.

Kovalchuk has scored 50 or more goals twice, 40 or more goals six times and 30 or more goals on nine occasions in his NHL career.

He had 78 points in 60 KHL games last season, proving he could still be a major contributor at the NHL level.

The Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs are both teams with a lot of skill up front that would be able to take advantage of Kovalchuk's scoring ability.

New York has a bigger need up the middle, but it would be tough to turn down the opportunity to bring in an elite offensive player.

Regardless of where Kovalchuk lands, his return could significantly shift the NHL's balance of power.


Leon Draisaitl

Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl is among the NHL's most promising young players, which means he is in line for a big contract as a restricted free agent.

While the Oilers have all the power in terms of being able to match any offer sheet, NHL Network's Brian Lawton reported Friday that he was working on a rumor involving Draisaitl. Lawton later noted a trade was a possible alternative for Edmonton rather than signing the 21-year-old or matching a potential offer sheet.

Despite Lawton's comments, Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli was steadfast in saying the team would do whatever it needed to in order to keep Draisaitl, according to TSN's Darren Dreger: "We are not trading him. I have talked to nobody. Nor will I. We have tons of cap space and will match any offer sheet. I have said that before."

The German center broke out in 2015-16, with 51 points in 72 games, and he hit his stride last season as Edmonton's No. 2 scorer behind Connor McDavid.

Draisaitl registered 29 goals and 48 assists for 77 points during the regular season before putting up 16 points in 13 playoff games.

The 2014 No. 3 overall pick doesn't receive as much attention as McDavid, but he figures to be nearly as important to the team moving forward.

Although Draisaitl is the type of player worth signing to an offer sheet, there is no logical reason for the Oilers to do anything other than keep him because of how much better he figures to get in the coming years.


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