It was just one week ago that Igor Eronko of Sport-Express.ru reported that an agreement had been put in place between KHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk and the New York Rangers, however, as the Russian winger looks to make his return to North America, things seem to be a little more tricky than that.
Kovalchuk last played in the NHL during the 2012-13 season with the New Jersey Devils who he joined via trade back in 2009.
Kovalchuk was originally selected by the Atlanta Thrashers with the 1st overall pick in the first round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft where he enjoyed a successful tenure over the eight years he spent playing there before the organization was shut down and later became the Winnipeg Jets.
After an impressive showing in his first year in Newark, the Devils signed the Tver, Russia native to a 17-year deal which since that day has become nothing short of controversial.
What do I mean by that exactly? In year three of his monster contract with the Devils organization, Kovalchuk received a one-year offer from SKA St.Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League which he quickly opted to terms with and left to represent his hometown.
This would immediately cause problems for New Jersey’s front office as general manager Lou Lamierello was put into a rather unique situation. When the opportunity first came to him to add Kovalchuk to his roster, he jumped at first chance to grab the biggest rental player at the time. What he didn’t realize however is that regardless of the fact that he acquired the rights to Kovalchuk, there was of course the potential that he could opt-out from his NHL contract and go back home as he would later end up doing.
At the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, Kovalchuk formally announced his retirement from the National Hockey League, ultimately walking away from the $77 million US he was still owed from the Devils.
What many didn’t realize about the massive deal between the two sides was that not only did Kovalchuk turn away and go home on his own terms but the NHL also played a apart in this decision as they rejected the monster agreement for circumventing salary-cap rules.
If that had not been the case, Kovalchuk would have been 44-years-old when the contract expired in its entirety. As a consequence of the transaction, the Devils were fined $3 million by the league and stripped of two draft choices.
In a statement from Kovalchuk upon his untimely exit, he said to the local media, “This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia. Though I decided to return this past season, [Devils president and GM] Lou [Lamoriello] was aware of my desire to go back home and have my family there with me. The most difficult thing for me is to leave the New Jersey Devils, a great organization that I have a lot of respect for, and our fans that have been great to me.”
Taking a look at the numbers that he would end up walking away with, Kovalchuk played a total of eleven seasons in the league where he recorded 417 goals to go alongside 816 points. This all happened while he appeared in a total of 816 games played.
These numbers would put him behind the names of only Joe Thornton, Martin St. Louis and Jarome Iginla as the only guys to accomplish such a statistical feat while it is noted that no player has scored as many regular-season goals Kovalchuk’s incredible 417.
Should Kovalchuk had stayed put with the Devils instead of walking away, he was scheduled to make the following in the coming years of his contract:
- 2013-14: $11.3M
- 2014-15: $11.3M
- 2015-16: $11.6M
- 2016-17: $11.8M
- 2017-18: $10M
- 2018-19: $7M
- 2019-20: $4M
- 2020-21: $1M
- 2021-22: $1M
- 2022-23: $1M
- 2023-24: $3M
- 2024-25: $4M
In a statement from Lou Lamoriello following all this confusion, he said to the media, “After many conversations with Ilya over the past year on his desire to retire from the National Hockey League, Ilya’s decision became official today. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors.”
As for international play that Kovalchuk had the chance to participate in, he represented Russia at three Olympic Winter Games, nine world championships, one world junior championship and the 2004 World Cup.
Fast forward now to more recent years and news surrounding the Russian superstar, Aivis Kalnins of 2112hockeyagency.com reported back in February of 2016 that Kovalchuk had threatened to leave and go back to the NHL, just one day after having been benched for poor performance while he was also stripped of his captaincy.
After his on-going problems with SKA subsided, Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported in July of 2017 that Kovalchuk’s return to the NHL had been postponed after he agreed to stay put in the KHL for one more year. He also mentioned that in the end, it was Kovalchuk’s decision to return to the KHL while there was knowledge in knowing that GM Ray Shero had made attempts to make trades that just did not work out.
While Brooks had noted that the Devils made a push to bring Kovalchuk back to Prudential Center, Mike Morreale of NHL.com later reported that Kovalchuk’s agent Jay Grossman confirmed the signing of his client, keeping him in Russia for the entirety of the 2017-18 regular season.
Now most recently with the Rangers rumours again, while Alex Nunn of Blue Shirt Banter reported that Kovalchuk signed a 2/3 year deal with New York for about $6 million per season, there is no truth to the matter as Kovalchuk has since denied these reported allegations.
Either way, it would not be official until July 1st when Kovalchuk can officially put pen to paper, locking himself up with a new NHL organization for the foreseeable future before hanging up the skates and calling it a career.
As far as things are indicated for at least the time being, after having turned 35 years of age just one day ago, TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie reports that Kovalchuk is now officially off the NHL’s voluntary retired list and an unrestricted free agent who can immediately negotiate and agree to terms with any NHL team but must wait to sign any deal until the 1st of July.
On Monday, Aivis Kalnins of 2112hockeyagency.com reported that there are indeed rumblings that indicate that the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, San Jose Sharks and St.Louis Blues are amongst those that will be chasing down the Russian forward though again Kovalchuk has yet to speak with any NHL franchises regarding his well anticipated return next year.
It is entirely possible that the Rangers could end up being Kovalchuk’s landing destination, however, they may just be waiting for the other shoe to drop, meaning that once they bring on a new head coach to replace the recently fired Alain Vigneault, it could be just a matter of time before talks pick up and a decision regarding his future is reached.
Previewing the numbers in which Kovalchuk has recorded and can continue to provide, the veteran sensation who has been playing professional hockey since 1999, finished this past season with 32 goals and 33 assists in 55 games played for St. Petersburg SKA.
While with Atlanta, Kovalchuk record a pair of 52-goal seasons while later on with the Devils, he scored 89 goals and 112 assists for 201 points in 222 games. Further more, he added on eight goals and 11 assists in 23 playoff contests as part of an effort helping them reach the Stanley Cup final in 2012.