Rumor has it ex-Thrashers and Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk wants to make his NHL return. The New York Rangers’ recent performances show that the team could use a forward that can score on anyone at any time, but is Kovalchuk that man?
I’ll make this short and sweet. No, no way, not a chance. The Rangers should not try to weasel Ilya Kovalchuk onto the roster.
The Russian forward “retired” four seasons ago only to continue his hockey career in the Kontinental Hockey League. Before leaving, he was one of the NHL’s best scorers, scoring at a point per game pace over his NHL career. But at this point, that doesn’t really matter; the cards are stacked against Kovalchuk playing in a blue sweater.
Cost to Acquire
Kovalchuk’s situation is unlike any other. While he is technically a free agent, only one team may strike a deal with him: the New Jersey Devils.
Based on the rules around a player retiring then returning to play in the NHL, Kovalchuk may only negotiate with the Devils unless they trade his rights. And at that point, it makes just as much sense for the Devils to sign Kovalchuk themselves and trade him. By doing that they have the option to assess his value without any game time or let him play and then move him mid-season.
It would be different if the Rangers wouldn’t have to give up any pieces to acquire Kovalchuk. Although, the case against Kovalchuk doesn’t stop there.
It’s safe to say that Kovalchuk isn’t a spring chicken anymore. He retired from the NHL at the ripe age of 30 and is returning at 34. While he has been playing in the meantime, the NHL’s game has changed in that same span of time.
Kovalchuk is in the downswing of his career, and the NHL has just continued to get younger and faster. And, while he does have more than enough NHL experience, Kovalchuk still needs a chance to re-acquaint himself with the NHL-sized ice and NHL game.
At this point, nobody knows what they’ll be getting out of Ilya Kovalchuk, and that includes the Rangers. Kovalchuk is at the age to where he won’t be getting any better, honestly he’ll be declining, and because he hasn’t been playing in the NHL for the past four years, he still needs a bit of leniency early on.
The Rangers’ window to win the Stanley Cup is dwindling, but general manager Jeff Gorton has made moves widening it. The Rangers have pieces in place to win the Cup soon, and Kovalchuk would be a good piece to add.
However, Kovalchuk has already set the precedent that he will drop everything and run if he doesn’t like how things are going. He did that four years ago when he quit playing for the Devils, and he’s doing that now even though he just won the Gagarin Cup with SKA St. Petersburg.
If the Rangers acquire him and try to keep hold of him for some Cup runs, who’s to say that he’ll stay? If Kovalchuk can’t adjust to the new NHL, what’s here to keep him?
All signs point to Ilya Kovalchuk making his NHL return. The list of teams supposedly interested in his services is long, and while the Rangers are on that list, they need to refrain from grabbing him. The question marks heavily outweigh the possible benefits of adding Kovalchuk to this Rangers’ lineup.