Ilya Kovalchuk
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The rebuilding New York Rangers should be ultra-thankful that Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the Los Angeles Kings.

The Ilya Kovalchuk speculation can officially be put to rest. It was announced on Saturday that Kovalchuk will sign with a Western Conference team, the Los Angeles Kings.

The Russian superstar is expected to sign a three-year contract with Los Angeles that’s worth $6.25 million (AAV).

Kovalchuk, 35, was close to signing a mega contract with the Kings back in 2010 when he was a UFA during his original NHL playing days. The thought was that he’d be a good fit with a then Cup-less Los Angeles squad, and his wife also showed interest in becoming an actress at the time.

Though, the Sniper eventually signed a 15-year deal with the New Jersey Devils, only to lose to those same Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. The 6-foot-3 winger retired from the NHL three years into his lucrative contract and went overseas to join the Kontinental Hockey League’s (KHL) SKA St. Petersburg.

Still, Kovalchuk had been rumored to make a return back to the NHL at some point and the New York Rangers always seemed to be heavily involved with the Kovy rumor mill.

Towards the end of the 2017-18 NHL regular season, there was a report out of Russia that the Rangers were planning on offering a contract similar to what Los Angeles has offered the right-handed shooter. NHL fans alike shouldn’t have been surprised that Kovalchuk was going to make a return back to the league considering his contract was set to expire with SKA, and the veteran also had a strong showing at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games with the Gold Medal Olympic Athletes of Russia.

However, was it surprising that he and the Rangers would have mutual interest since the Broadway Blueshirts made it evident that they were entering a legitimate rebuild with the team’s roster for the first time in over a decade?

Yes, and no.

The reality is that the Rangers will always have appeal to hockey’s superstar athletes no matter what current state the team is in, and New York has a bonafide past of not shying away from making the big headlines during UFA.

There was a short-lived hope that the Rangers might just be able to do a rebuild “on the fly” and sign a superstar like Kovalchuk and perhaps maybe even add another skater like UFA, John Tavares. The thought was that in three years New York would have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup, again.

Still, the Garden Faithful should be thankful that they backed out of the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes.

Remember Marian Gaborik?

The Great Gabby was a pure goal-scorer and did just that on Broadway when the Slovakian native donned a Rangers sweater. Still, this hockey enthusiasts always thought that Gaborik was too one dimensional and was better off, for his and the team’s sake, as a second fiddle.

That’s what you get with Kovalchuk. Yes, they’re both talented beyond belief, but they’re not complete players or leaders like a skater such as Tavares. If the Rangers did sign Kovalchuk, he’d be the go-to star on the Rangers as the team’s first fiddle.

As the time neared closer to draft weekend, it became more apparent that New York wasn’t going to sign Tavares, so bringing on a player such as Kovalchuk became even more useless for both sides and for reasons mentioned above.

The Russian sniper would be joining a youthful team in a rebuild, but it wouldn’t be worth either side’s efforts. By the time Kovalchuk’s contract would have expired he would have spent three seasons heading into his late thirties to what—just say he played for an Original Six franchise?

The goal-scorer would have more than likely taken opportunities away from the younger and up-and-coming skaters the Rangers’ roster entails now such as Vladislav Namestikov or Filip Chytil.

Kovy would then soon be in a category as one of the NHL’s top players to ever lace up the skates for the New York Rangers and essentially accomplish nothing; other than a photo of him in a Rangers sweater and another Devil who ended up playing in New York after his prime.

The timing wasn’t right in New York for Kovalchuk, and fans will watch him succeed as a second fiddle to the Kings’ captain Anze Kopitar in the City of Angels.

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Kyle McKenna is a freelancer who covers the NHL for Elite Sports New York, Hooked On Hockey Magazine & Fansided. Follow him on Twitter @KMcKenna_tLT5 and use the hashtag #McKennasDigest to have your NHL questions featured in an article or answered over his weekly NHL podcast.