There have been numerous reports for the past month or so that Ilya Kovalchuk wants to return to the NHL. Those reports have been confirmed by New Jersey Devils’ general manager Ray Shero.
— theScore (@theScore) May 9, 2017
As most know, Kovalchuk infamously retired from the NHL after the 2012-13 season to go play in the KHL. He has played for SKA Saint Petersburg for the past four seasons and has enjoyed success playing in his home country. The former Devil recorded 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games last season. That capped 222 total points in 209 games in Russia.
Needless to say, Kovalchuk can still play at a high level. In order for him to enter the league, he must sign with the Devils first — what happens after that is all speculation. What is clear, though, is that he must go through the Devils to play in the NHL next season. There are a few teams that should be interested in his services if he wants to play outside of New Jersey.
John Tavares & New York Islanders
The Islanders have to prove that they are in win-now mode. The reason for this is to convince John Tavares to stay after his contract expires next Summer. After failing to make the playoffs, the Islanders’ captain may want out if there are greener pastures than what is currently around him in New York. Acquiring a top-notch winger like Kovalchuk to play alongside Tavares would go a long way in convincing him that the Isles are serious about winning now.
The Islanders missed the playoffs by only one point this season, and have almost the same team returning next season. Adding an offensive threat such as Kovalchuk should be enough to catapult them into the playoffs next year. Expect Garth Snow to make a strong push to add another reason for Tavares to stay in Long Island for the foreseeable future.
Canadiens’ Radulov Connection
The Montreal Canadiens need some help. Their first-round exit in six games at the hands of the New York Rangers is proof of that. They have, arguably, the best goaltender in the world in Carey Price — he’s not the problem. The problem is they need to upgrade what is in front of him. They scored 11 goals in that series, even though they outshot the Rangers in three games and were tied in shots in two others. The Canadiens need help scoring and Kovalchuk could be just the man for the job.
If that were not enough of a reason, it has been proven that bringing in successful Russian players can work in Montreal. The Canadiens struck gold last year in a similar situation with Alexander Radulov, who came over from the KHL after playing for four seasons as well. The Russian forward notched 54 points in 76 games with the Canadiens and led them in the playoffs with seven points. Marc Bergevin could look for the same success with Kovalchuk and be willing to pay a good amount for it.
Golden Knights Need Talent
The Vegas Golden Knights are in an interesting position. General manager George McPhee will look at any and all methods to upgrade his team. Adding a two-time 50 goal scorer would certainly count as an upgrade. The Golden Knights can offer a warm climate, a bundle of money and a fresh start. All three of those aspects are hard to turn down when they are alone, but all three may be too much to say no to. McPhee will have to put together an impressive package of assets, but do not count them out of this race.
Devils Need Offense
The last of the teams is the one holding all the cards, the New Jersey Devils. They have to sign off on Kovalchuk entering the league again and this forces Kovalchuk to sign with them and stay, or agree to sign and a trade to another team. Adding a top-six forward is what New Jersey desperately needs and it would not be the worst idea for a reunion, but it would not be the smartest.
Although keeping Kovy would not be a bad thing, trading him offers the most upside. He is 34-years old and the Devils are still rebuilding. The rebuild is entering its final phase but the Devils will benefit if they get a younger player that fits into that strategy. Also, Shero could potentially have a bidding war and jack up the price, if there is significant interest from the teams mentioned above. A bidding war would be the best case scenario and is a very likely one at this point.
Potential Deals for the Devils
What the Devils need are players. Shero has acquired a multitude of draft picks over the past few seasons but it is about time he has gotten more proven talent other than Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.
Joshua Ho-Sang or Calvin De Haan would make nice additions from the Islanders as both are young and talented. The Hockey Writers Patrick Hickey, Jr. took closer look at Ho-Sang and it shows why he would be a good player for the Devils.
Alex Galchenyuk from the Canadiens would make sense, as rumors about his availability have persisted for months and he is only 23. The Golden Knights have little to offer at the moment but could put up future assets for help right now.
Ray Shero has all the leverage and he knows it. There are several other teams that could be interested but these may make the most sense. Watching what will happen and where Kovalchuk will land will prove to be very entertaining over the Summer.