Happy Tuesday. Ilya Kovalchuk’s officially returning to the NHL. New Jersey Devils’ GM Ray Shero confirmed this morning that Kovalchuk does indeed want to return to the NHL after “retiring” from the league back in 2013.
Kovalchuk will have to sign and trade. The Devils still hold his rights so the ball is in their court. The only way Kovalchuk would be able to sign with another team right out of the gate is if every single NHL GM approved (which realistically isn’t happening). He’ll have to sign a contract with New Jersey, who will then proceed to entertain trade proposals from other teams who may want Kovalchuk’s services. Shero also went on to say that Grossman, Kovalchuk’s agent, could start talking to other teams as well:
Kovalchuk has stated that he would be interested in playing in New York or Florida. I don’t see the Devils trading him to the Rangers but the Islanders and Panthers are all possibilities. Tampa Bay is there too but I don’t think they’d have much use for him.
However, he would have to sign a tentative contract with New Jersey before he can officially “sign” with another team. He won’t be able to “sign” a contract until July 1.
Kovalchuk could also wait this out and become an unrestricted free agent next summer so he can sign with whomever he wants without going through the Devils first but he’ll be 36. Not a lot of teams would want a player at that age who hasn’t played in the NHL in five years. The Devils would be smart to sign him now and start shopping him around because he has plenty of trade value. Theoretically, his return would be a draft pick and possibly a Top 4 defenseman, who the Devils desperately need.
There is also the slight possibility that the Devils keep him around, at least for a little bit. Yes, New Jersey could use his offensive capabilities but he’s 35. Here’s more about his NHL and KHL stats over the course of his career, posted when the original return rumors began: The Return of Ilya Kovalchuk? However, his intentions in coming back to the NHL are to win a Stanley Cup and this Devils team is still a few years out.
If the Devils do decide to let him stay in New Jersey, I could see them trading him before the trade deadline next season. If Kovalchuk has a decent start to his season, any number of teams who are buying at the deadline might be willing to take him on. However, there’s no way he would stick around for the long term, as nice as it would be to see him on a line with Taylor Hall and whoever the Devils draft in June.
Speaking of which, both the NHL entry-level draft and Vegas expansion drafts will occur before July 1 so this Devils team will look slightly different. They’ll lose someone to Vegas but they’ll acquire a ton of prospects, including whoever they pick first overall (THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS WIN THE 2017 DRAFT LOTTERY). The Devils are primed to become a playoff team soon enough and their rebuild is going well, but Kovalchuk may not want to stick around (which is completely fine by me).
My dream sign-and-trade scenario would be trading him to the Flyers for their second overall pick in this year’s draft for Kovalchuk (so the Devils can draft both Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick) but because that won’t happen, who knows where he’ll end up? Or if he’ll even be the same player he used to be? Will Devils fans boo him when he returns to The Rock for the first time? Will he sign a 17-year contract extension with another team just to leave them behind too? No matter what happens, the Devils hold all the cards and can do with them what they please. This is gonna be fun.