There was an expectation that Kontinental Hockey League superstar Ilya Kovalchuk would cone over to the National hockey League once again last summer, but that never came to pass. It's believed that Kovalchuk's ongoing contract with the New Jersey Devils organization, despite the fact that he official retired form NHL play, was a major contributing factor in that decision. The Devils would have had the right to trade his rights to any team in the league, but the belief is that they couldn't find a suitor that met their price tag.
Now however it sounds like Kovalchuk will return come the 2018-2019 National Hockey League season and in fact it appears that the New York Rangers are frontrunners in the sweepstakes. Looking at that possibility, the New York Post's Larry Brooks notes up front that the Rangers would greatly benefit from the addition of Kovalchuk:
"You’re delusional if you believe the Rangers are going to throw a bunch of young lambs onto the ice to be slaughtered in 2018-19. The Baby Blueshirts will need accomplished veterans to help show the way, and Kovalchuk — most certainly along with Rick Nash, no guarantee to return after experiencing life near the top of the league in Boston — is one of the guys management will attempt to enlist who can do that," he writes.
However, the experienced writer also felt the need to defend Kovalchuk's reputation in his latest article.
"Now, you may be thinking Kovalchuk, who has led the KHL in scoring each of the past two seasons and whose .511 goals per game average is 12th in NHL history among players with at least 400 goals, might be the natural sniper the roster and pipeline lack but that he is selfish and not much a team guy after bolting New Jersey for Russia in 2013 and isn’t the one to lead the way.
Not so. Who says? Martin Brodeur for one, that’s who."
The former star goalie and former teammate of Kovalchuyk only has great things to say about the Russian player.
“Kovy is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Brodeur told The Post on Monday. “And I’m not talking about just his play on the ice.
“He was one of our most engaged guys in the room. He was great that way. He really cares about winning, and he cares about guys on his team. Away from the rink, and I think it’s unusual in the NHL for someone from Russia, but his wife organized dinners and was great with the team.
“I have only good things to say about him,”
This will surely entice Rangers management and fans to want to serious pursue him this summer - but careful, there is competition for the veteran forward. According to a news report from Kontinental Hockey League insider Aivis Kalnins, his sources have informed him that the Los Angeles Kings are already considered a "strong contender" to acquire Kovalchuk over the summer.
It will be interesting to see is just how much money and term a player of the caliber of Kovalchuk will command when he makes his return to the NHL next season. While there is no question that the man is a legitimate superstar there's also no question that at 34-years of age and a full 5 seasons removed from playing in the NHL his skills will have suffered.
However, as Brooks stated, despite the fact that the Rangers are entering a surprising rebuilding mode, they will need strong elements added to the team to make it work. Adding Kolvalchuk 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.