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.