Despite retiring from the NHL at age 30 in 2013, Ilya Kovalchuk is one of the most attractive free agents entering this offseason after announcing his desire to return to the NHL. Could the two-time former 50-goal scorer wind up skating locally?
The dilemma Ilya Kovalchuck is facing is simple, what exactly does he have left? Many might also wonder what the market on a 35-year old Russian that has not played in the NHL since the 2012-13 season. But general managers around the league are not concerned.
Kovalchuk has hired one of the best agents in the NHL, JP Barry, who according to reports has his choice of eight teams to choose from. Two of those could be in New York, as the Rangers and Islanders have been mentioned.
On Wednesday, in an interview on TSN 1050, Bob McKenzie spoke about Kovalchuk’s interest in the Rangers.
“There are a lot of people who thought that the Rangers are a team he wants to play for and that he might be predisposed to work and live in Manhattan and I think that even though the Rangers are in a rebuild, it’s more of a soft-rebuild and while they are infusing their lineup with all of these young players, and more to come, they are looking at other things they can do to keep the team competitive and make it a shorter rebuild than a longer rebuild.”
After retiring amongst controversy from the New Jersey Devils at age 30 with $77 million and 12 years remaining on his NHL record $100 million-dollar contract signed in 2010, Kovalchuk went home to Russia.
Many speculated that his decision to leave the NHL despite the considerable sum of money he still had coming, Kovalchuk always claimed it was about family. Since at the time Russia had a lower tax-rate, Kovalchuk would earn more of his salary there.
On July 15, 2013, he signed a four-year deal with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL. However, due to the crashing of the Russian ruble in December 2014, Kovalchuk would earn more money coming back to NHL despite the higher-tax rate.
Kovalchuk is no longer under contract with the KHL and is free to sign with any NHL team starting July 1. In an interview with Darren Dreger, of the Dreger Report, Kovalchuk spoke about his desire to return to the NHL.
“The NHL is the best league in the world and the Stanley Cup is the toughest thing to win,” he said.
He later spoke about his mindset in leaving his home country.
“If there was any doubt in my mind, I would never come here. I wouldn’t be running around just to collect the money,” he said. “I want to be productive and I want to play for the team that trusts in me and I will give them everything I can to make them proud and successful. I have three or four years left in my tank where I can compete at the highest level…that’s why I’m here and that’s why I want to sign in the NHL.”
There is no doubt that both the Islanders and Rangers could benefit from Kovalchuk’s experience and explosive goal scoring. However, one risk is that because of his age, any contract signed by a player 35 and older would count against the cap if he decides not to fulfil the length of it.
Dreger said that it’s believed Kovalchuk is looking for a two or three-year deal worth around $6.25 million per season.