Kovalchuk Staying in Russia

The Devils portion of the Ilya Kovalchuk saga has ended. He will stay in Russia to play in the KHL for another year, meaning if he comes back to the NHL in 2018-19, he will be an unrestricted free agent and the Devils will get nothing for him no matter where he signs.

The news of Kovalchuk’s decision was made official by his agent Jay Grossman and confirmed to NHL.com writer Mike Morreale. Kovalchuk had reportedly narrowed his choice of teams to be moved to to Columbus, Toronto and the Rangers. Devils general manager Ray Shero was unable to come to an agreement to sign the winger and trade his rights to another NHL team.

Kovalchuk was drafted first overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers. On February 4, 2010, he was traded to the Devils along with Anssi Salmela and the Thrashers’ 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft (the pick that would become Jon Merrill – now a Vegas Golden Knight) for Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier and the Devils’ first round pick (traded to Chicago, they chose Kevin Hayes) and second round pick (also traded to the Blackhawks – they picked Justin Holl) in the 2010 draft.

He would help lead the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final (with a bad back), his deepest run in the NHL postseason to date after famously signing a 15-year, $100 million dollar free agent deal with New Jersey the offseason before.

The following summer, on July 11, 2013, he promptly retired from the Devils and the NHL. Four days later, he signed with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. He has been in the KHL since and has conquered there, winning two Gagarin Cups as champions of the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg.

One reason floated for why he would have wanted to stay in Russia was the 2018 Winter Olympics. The NHL is not sending its pros to PyeongChang, South Korea. The KHL, however will more likely than not allow their players to represent their countries on the largest international stage. Kovalchuk has always held representing his country in international play dear to his heart and the Olympics, in particular, are a big deal for him.

Now, though, he will be coming back to the NHL as a 35-year-old player who will not command as much on the open market as a younger Kovalchuk would have gotten. Maybe the teams he wants will have him for his price. Maybe he will have to settle.

There is no doubt that Ilya Kovalchuk is a special player. He won the 2004 Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer (tying with Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla with 41) and played in the 2004, 2008 and 2009 NHL All-Star Games. He made the 2001-02 NHL All-Rookie Team and took home 2004 second All-Star Team and 2012 first All-Star Team honors. He was also second in voting for the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year in 2002.

But his legacy amongst Devils fans will always be a big “what if?” What if he had stuck around in order to finish the business of winning a Stanley Cup? How would his career have played out and how would it have affected the team today?

Most NHL owners would not have wanted to take on his unwieldy contract and incoming Devils owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer were no exceptions. There are many theories about how and why Kovalchuk “retired” back in 2013. We may never know the full details, but had things played out differently, could the Devils and Kovalchuk have continued to win together?

Despite all of those questions, one thing is certain: the Ilya Kovalchuk saga is over as far as the Devils are concerned and, even though the team could not squeeze a draft pick or a prospect or an NHL-ready player out of him, most are probably happy that this particular headache is done with.

Shero Speaks on Kovalchuk Situation

It has been a while since my last update here, but such is life during the offseason. Earlier today, on NHL.com, Mike Morreale published an article that I thought was interesting. It set the record straight on just what is going on with Ilya Kovalchuk and his National Hockey League return.

Devils general manager Ray Shero told Morreale that “Kovalchuk kind of drives the bus on this in terms of talking to teams or where he could want to play.” Shero said that, while he could change his mind, “Right now nothing, according to [Grossman], has changed and he would like to pursue [NHL] opportunities.” Grossman is, of course, Kovalchuk’s agent Jay Grossman, who Shero told Morreale he spoke to this past Wednesday.

The interesting thing to take away from Morreale’s article is that Kovalchuk needs permission from all 31 NHL teams if he wants to return before his 35th birthday and sign anywhere he wanted to, since he was put on the voluntarily retired list when he retired from the NHL on July 11, 2013. He signed a contract with SKA St. Petersburg on July 15, 2013 in one of the more shocking moves of players between the NHL and KHL.

Kovalchuk turns 35 on April 15, 2018 according to Morreale. Until then, the Devils would own his NHL rights and would have to sign him and either trade him or keep him. Morreale also stresses that Kovalchuk cannot sign with the Devils until July 1 and is not eligible for the Expansion Draft for the Vegas Golden Knights. Shero told him that a sign-and-trade “has to make sense for the Devils.”

Shero told Morreale that while he assumes Kovalchuk’s NHL return to still be the plan, he “is not holding his breath waiting for him to make a decision.

So, at the moment, Kovalchuk seems ready to return from Russia, but that could change at any moment. Also, he may or may not end up a member of the Devils. Stay tuned as we will see where this is headed come July 1.

In other news closer to home, today’s edition of The Coast Star, a local weekly Jersey Shore newspaper, had an article written by George Woolston that said that Ken Daneyko and mascot NJ Devil will be appearing locally to sign autographs and meet fans for a good cause. The meet and greet will happen at Trinity Financial Sports and Entertainment Management Company in Spring Lake on Saturday, June 10 from 2 PM to 4 PM.

The person they are helping is Chris J. Nolze of Toms River. Mr. Nolze was diagnosed with brain cancer five years ago and has also battled a brain tumor, trigeminal neuralgia and dystonia. According to Woolston’s article, Chris has undergone many operations and people have been very generous with and towards him during these trying times. In turn, he wanted to give back by starting the Chris’s Fight For a Cure Foundation. Woolston said that this foundation strives to “conquer illness and support those in need.”

The foundation awards a $100 scholarship each year “to an eighth grader at Toms River Intermediate South School.”

Trinity Financial will be selling sports memorabilia at the event in order to raise money for Chris and his medical bills. The event will be free to the public. According to the newspaper article, the first 100 fans in attendance will receive a free Ken Daneyko photo.

This is a really good event and the kind that the Devils continue to be involved with. It is wonderful to see alumni and current players get involved with the charitable end of being a pro hockey player and really give back to the community here in New Jersey. If you are in the area and can make it, it is June 10 (a Saturday) from 2 PM to 4 PM at Trinity Financial Sports and Entertainment Management Company at 219 Morris Avenue in Spring Lake.