The Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes have officially begun!
For weeks now there have been rumblings that the former New Jersey Devils and Atlanta Thrashers sniper will make his long awaited return to the NHL in 2018-19, but the question all along has been where? And for how much? Rumors have linked Kovalchuk to several teams the past few weeks, but until today no team has confirmed their interest or intent.
Earlier today, New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton has finally confirmed what many NHL and KHL analysts have speculated for weeks now, that the Rangers are working on a deal for former NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk.
The 35 year old Kovalchuk, now an unrestricted free agent, has recently expressed interest in returning to the NHL after spending five seasons in the KHL with powerhouse SKA Saint Petersburg. While rumors and speculative reports have linked the Rangers and Kovalchuk for weeks now, neither side had confirmed the speculation until Gorton stepped forward earlier this morning.
"We've checked in with him. It's fair to say that's something we're going to look at again further and see what's going on," Gorton told Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
The interesting aspect of all of this is that, while Kovalchuk is free to negotiate a deal with all 31 NHL teams, he cannot officially sign a contract until the NHL’s free-agency period opens up on July 1st, 2018. Until then however, he’s free to be “wined and dined” by any interested parties. So don’t expect the Rangers to be the only team mentioned in the same breath as Kovalchuk between now and July 1st.
And for those saying that a 35 year old Kovalchuk won’t be able to keep up or produce at the NHL level, keep in mind that he was once again the KHL’s leading scorer this past season. In 53 games, Kovalchuk potted 31 goals and 63 points for SKA Saint Petersburg. Not bad… not bad at all. While no one’s expecting him to return to 50 goal status in the NHL, it’s clear that he still has some offensive punch and could help any number of teams when it comes to offensive firepower.