The New York Post reported yesterday that Ilya Kovalchuk would return to the Kontinental Hockey League (Russia) for (at least) one more year after months of speculation that he would rerun to the NHL after “retiring” a few years ago. There have been rumors nearly every offseason since he left and while it’s been mostly just baseless rumors, this offseason brought more speculation with more concrete basis.
The article seemed to imply that it was Devils GM Ray Shero’s fault that Kovalchuk returned to the KHL. Brett Cyrgalis writes:
“Despite the best efforts of Devils general manager Ray Shero, Ilya Kovalchuk is heading back to Russia.
Shero attempted to trade Kovalchuk, and that effort intensified over the past four days. It seemed Columbus might have been a good landing spot, and same with San Jose, where the Sharks employ his former Devils coach, Peter DeBoer.
The Rangers also had interest, but Shero understandably was hesitant to trade him right across the river. It all led to Shero being unable to find a deal worth doing, so the 34-year-old winger was set to re-sign with his current team, SKA St. Petersburg.”
(On a side note, I love that the entire article has a Rangers focus because that’s clearly all we care about. The title of the article is my favorite though: Ilya Kovalchuk screws over Devils for last time. Are you sure about that? Because that’s become his “thing”. He’ll continue to screw over the Devils whether he comes back to the NHL or not. He’ll screw them over again next summer when he somehow signs with the Rangers. It’s just funny that he wants to come back in order to win the Stanley Cup, which is something he won’t be doing with New York. Back on track…)
I don’t think this is Shero’s fault. I think he did the best that he could. He was in talks with Kovalchuk and his agent, and he tried to entertain trade deals with other teams. (Note: the Devils still hold (held?) Kovalchuk’s rights so he would have to sign with the Devils before going to another team.) Maybe no team decided to bite. Or Kovalchuk just decided that he wanted to stay in Russia and play in the Olympics. Or it could be something else entirely.
CBS Sports reported that Kovalchuk might have been pressured by Vladimir Putin’s inner circle to stay in Russia. They write:
“Kovalchuk’s decision to postpone his NHL comeback by at least one more season, however, might not have come without some prodding from the Russian president’s affiliates, according to Sport-Express foreign correspondent Slava Malamud.
“Gold in election year is a huge priority for Russia,” Malamud tweeted Tuesday. “Pressure to stay was put on Kovalchuk by Putin’s inner circle.””
Which makes sense, I guess. It’s not like anyone in the NHL is allowed to play in the Olympics in February so maybe Kovalchuk made the right decision. There is immense pressure on the Russians (and the Canadiens and maybe the Americans) to win gold in PyeongChang.
Cody Benjamin, the article’s author, goes on to say that this isn’t the first time that Kovalchuk has been pressured to stay in Russia. Back when Kovalchuk signed that monstrous contract with the Devils (was it 15 or 17 years? I can’t remember), apparently Putin offered Kovalchuk a large sum of money to stay in Russia (he had signed a KHL contract to play during the 2012-13 lockout season).
Whether or not there is any basis to these allegations, Kovalchuk’s staying in the KHL for another year and there’s nothing we can do about it. We don’t even know what his intentions were in coming back. Did he really just want to win a Cup? Was it for the money? Was he trying to drive up his value so he could sign a better KHL contract? Who knows? And by extension, who cares? I certainly don’t.
Yes, Kovalchuk might decide to come back next summer when the Devils no longer hold his rights (July 1, 2018, write it down) and he becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with whomever he chooses. The contract would have to be a 35+ contract and I don’t know how many teams, if any, would be willing to sign someone who hasn’t played in the league in years and whose production dipped. You never really know with Kovalchuk.
My totally unbiased opinion? I hate him and I hope I never have to hear another word about him ever again. It’s the Kovalchuk circus every offseason and I would be thrilled if he never signed another professional hockey contract ever again.
Between this and Parise (sorry), July 4th has been very bad to Devils fans and I’m going to start skipping the holiday altogether. Kovalchuk will probably sign his new contract with the Rangers on the 4th too.