Hands up if you remember former NHLer Andrei Kovalenko. The big Russian winger played over 600 career games in the NHL split between the Quebec Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins, but left for the KHL, or rather its predecessors the Russian Super League (RSL) following the 2000-2001 NHL season.
The big man affectionately known as “The Tank” by former teammates is probably best known for being part of the trade package that netted the Avs goaltender Patrick Roy from the Canadiens. Kovalenko was shipped to the Habs, along with goaltender Jocelyn Thibault and Martin Rucinsky for Roy and forward Mike Keane. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since leaving North America and retiring from professional hockey in Russia in the late 2000s, Kovalenko has remained in the sport and is currently the head of the KHL’s Players Association. As such, Kovalenko is a spokesman for the league and often participates in promotional events including one earlier this week in the league’s United Corporate league where he apparently took issue with a referee’s call. So much so that he delivered a devastating sucker punch to the official, knocking him out cold and giving him a concussion.
Check it out:
WTF!? The referee, Vladislav Kiselev, was taken to hospital and diagnosed with a concussion. He made an official statement to Swedish hockey magazine Aftonbladet the next day saying:
“He could not control himself, he hit me several times. He was furious. I told him to go and sit in the stall, then he pulled me in, burst out all other judges and players - and hit me hard again.”
Kovalenko has reportedly not reached out to Kiselev to offer an apology or to explain his actions. Double WTF!?
Report: There’s a clear frontrunner in the Kovalchuk sweepstakes
Last offseason there were rumblings that former NHL superstar turned KHL scoring champion Ilya Kovalchuk was contemplating a return to North America following another Gagarin Cup championship from his SKA Saint Petersburg squad. Of course, technically Kovalchuk’s right were still owned by the New Jersey Devils, so if he were to return he’d have to agree to a contract with Devils GM Ray Shero before being traded to a new squad.
Things proved too complicated for Kovalchuk, the Devils and any interested third parties and so the 34-year-old Russian sniper elected to play one more season in the KHL and return to North America for the 2018-19 season, which just so happens to coincide with the Devils losing his rights. So, when Kovalchuk returns this summer he’ll be an unrestricted free-agent, free to sign with any team in the NHL.
And according to TSN analyst and NHL insider Pierre LeBrun, Kovalchuk may already have his sights set on his next destination. On TSN’s Insider Trading segment, LeBrun broke down the Kovalchuk situation for fans and even leaked some inside details on the player’s next move
Check it out:
“Last summer when the Devils owned Kovalchuk's rights and it was kind of messy the way it would work because they could only trade him if there was a sign-and-trade. It never really got that close. But we believe the Rangers had showed some mild interest. And what we're hearing is the Rangers might potentially revisit that interest one he's UFA on July 1st. Play him on a line with Namestnikov. Yeah the Rangers are rebuilding but they still have to sell tickets so that's a possibility."
That’s right… a 34 year old, over the hill sniper on… the rebuilding New York Rangers? On one hand it makes sense, after trading away players like Derek Stepan last offseason and then Rick Nash, J.T Miller and Michael Grabner prior to this season’s trade deadline, the Rangers will be mighty thin offensively at the top end of their lineup. Newcomer Vladislav Namestnikov and emerging goal score Pavel Buchnevich could use some real veteran guidance and who better to help them navigate the NHL than one of Russia’s all-time greats in Kovalchuk? In fact, because Namestnikov has been playing center since arriving in New York, it’s not crazy to imagine the Rangers rolling out an all-Russian line with Namestnikov centering Kovalchuk and Buchnevich next season.
The move may not turn the Rangers into Stanley Cup contenders right away, but it will certainly provide the team with a jolt of offense and give fans something to cheer for in what may be an otherwise difficult transition season. But, will it happen? Time will tell.