Kostitsyn hoping for another chance in NHL

Nashville Predators' Andrei Kostitsyn (46) celebrates with Patric Hornqvist (27) after scoring his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, Sunday, March 25, 2012. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

It’s a long shot.

It might even be longer than that.

But the odds haven’t kept Andrei Kostitsyn from clamouring for an opportunity to return to the NHL. He isn’t picky about where it happens. He’s willing to sign a cap-friendly, one-year deal. All he’s really asking for is a chance.

“I’m ready,” Kostitsyn told Sportsnet from Minsk, Belarus on Thursday night. “I want to say when I come there again I’ll be excited like it’s the first time. I’m doing my best — training hard and working hard.

"I'll try to score lots of goals like I know I can."

There is no questioning the talent and ability. What the 30-year-old is hoping teams can look past is the baggage he left behind.

Kostitsyn's last stint in the NHL ostensibly ended when he and Nashville Predators teammate Alexander Radulov missed curfew during the 2012 playoffs. It resulted in a team-issued two-game suspension and both men bolted for Russia after Nashville was eliminated soon after.

That indiscretion won't soon be forgotten in NHL circles, which is what makes Kostitsyn's current job search so interesting: Is a general manager willing to look past it to add a former 53-point man at a bargain basement price?

With so little money to go around in a salary cap world it is certainly worthy of consideration.

Kostitsyn was a 10th overall pick by Montreal and managed three 20-goal seasons with the Habs. More recently, he put up nine points in seven games for Belarus at the IIHF World Hockey Championship, where he played under former NHL coach Dave Lewis.

"Everything we asked him to do he did," said Lewis. "There was some, I guess, trepidation when I first got there. I'd heard a lot of different things about his past, but to me he came really motivated and focused."

Lewis believes Kostitsyn still possesses the skillset to play in the NHL if given the right opportunity. He's already passed that viewpoint along to one team's GM and remains open to sharing his thoughts with others.

A lifelong hockey man, Lewis knows that a reputation can be tough to shake.

"We never really talked about (Kostitsyn's past) because sometimes words are pretty easy," he said. "I was more watching his performance, his attitude, his discipline and his focus rather than even bringing up any of that past NHL stuff.

"I was prepared to have a conversation with him but I didn't need to."

Agent Gary Greenstin is also willing to vouch for Kostitsyn. He's been certified for over 20 years and recently drew praise from Lightning GM Steve Yzerman for his ability to bridge the gap between teams and foreign players.

"Gary, he gets it," said Yzerman.

Greenstin has been telling anyone who will listen that Kostitsyn is a changed man. Better conditioned, more mature, and ready to make an impact. However, the best offer he's been able to rustle up for his new client to date is a training camp tryout. That isn't of much interest.

At this point in free agency, most NHL teams are searching exclusively for value buys. Players that will come relatively cheap and have a decent chance of outperforming their level of compensation.

Kostitsyn falls into that category and will likely wait until mid-July for a NHL contract offer before considering his options in the KHL. Training camps will soon be underway in Russia.

For now, the player's focus is solely on charting a return to North America.

"I like to play the style there," said Kostitsyn. "You have more chances in the smaller rink. A lot of good chances to score goals. ... I'm open to any team; happy to be there.

"I think I can help any team."

The question is: Will any of them take him up on the offer?