Report: Frontrunner in Kovalchuk negotiations now out of the running

Well… so much for that plan. On to Plan B?

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After last offseason’s big tease with former NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, you can’t blame NHL general managers for taking a cautious approach when negotiating with the 35 year old Russian sniper. Still as many as eight teams have reportedly expressed interest in signing Kovalchuk, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.

You may recall last summer that talks between Kovalchuk and potential suitors like the New York Rangers, Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings fell apart when the New Jersey Devils, Kovalchuk’s former NHL team, were unable to consummate a deal and ship his contractual rights to another team. This offseason however, Kovalchuk has no ties to the Devils organization and is free to sign with whichever NHL team he chooses.

So… who’s in the bidding this time around? LeBrun reports that there are two “tiers” of suitors for Kovalchuk with the Kings, Rangers, San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins pushing the hardest and earning “top contender” status from LeBrun. The secondary tier, that is teams who have expressed interest but haven’t necessarily met or discussed terms with Kovalchuk, consists of the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks

Here’s the report straight from LeBrun himself:

The top contenders, I believe, are the Kings (who met with Kovalchuk on Friday), the Bruins, the Rangers and the Sharks (who met with him Monday). Then I think there’s a second group of teams including Detroit, St. Louis, Dallas and Anaheim. Now, other teams can still get involved, no question, but at this point I think that’s your list, which is already pretty deep.

However, a report from Rangers insider Larry Brooks of The New York Post is casting doubt on the Rangers’ chances of landing the former NHL superstar. Check this out tidbit of inside information from Brooks’ latest column in The Post:

Ilya Kovalchuk has not eliminated the Rangers from his list, but we’re told that the dynamic free agent winger would only come to Broadway if the Blueshirts acquire a player or two who would vault the club into contending status. In other words, probably not.

That’s a marked change from LeBrun’s report issued just a week ago, so it’s hard to know exactly where the truth lies. Are the Rangers interested in Kovalchuk? It certainly seems that way, but it’s unclear if the feeling is mutual. One thing is clear however, Kovalchuk will have options for his NHL return. This is purely speculation, but we’re willing to bet that Kovalchuk ends up passing on the Rangers in favor of a legitimate Stanley Cup playoff team like the Bruins, Sharks, Kings, Ducks or Golden Knights.