After two days of a relatively low-profile courtship of top free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, a serious dark horse has entered the mix.
Islanders general manager Garth Snow confirmed Friday night that the Islanders are "in" on discussions for the 27-year-old Russian sniper. It is believed that they join the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings in the Kovalchuk sweepstakes.
Snow said he made a call to Kovalchuk's agent at about 9 p.m. to gauge what their camp is looking for in terms of salary and term.
"I have to do my due diligence and look at all the options, it's as simple as that," Snow said when reached by phone late Friday night. "Over the last couple of days, I've made maybe a hundred calls and explored options where maybe it doesn't come to fruition, but I'm not doing my job if I don't make those calls."
Although it has been widely reported since the NHL's free-agency period began Thursday afternoon that the Devils and Kings are the front-runners and most viable landing spots for the star winger, Snow said he felt compelled to at least give it a shot.
"I made one preliminary call and we'll see where it goes," he said. "I felt it was my duty to make the call to inquire."
What it would mean to the Islanders' organization to land such a coveted free agent is irrefutable. "He's obviously an elite player, a perennial 40-goal scorer and there is an appeal there. We'd obviously increase our offensive output," Snow said. "He's one of the most prolific goal-scorers over the last couple of years."
Before this bombshell revelation that the Islanders might be poised to make such a serious splash for a world-caliber talent, Snow signed four players - defensemen Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina, former Rangers winger P.A. Parenteau and enforcer Zenon Konopka - to the type of modest contracts that have become his calling card.
But this was not Snow's first aggressive pursuit this week. He said he went hard after top defensemen Paul Martin and Dan Hamhuis and even outbid both Pittsburgh and Vancouver, respectively, for those players.
Earlier in the day, Snow discussed the four free-agent signings.
"I think we addressed several needs," Snow said. "Toughness [Konopka], size on the back end with Jurcina and Eaton, and obviously with Parenteau, a player who, when given the opportunity, can be productive."