27. One of the Olympic hockey subplots will be Ilya Kovalchuk. Unlike last summer, when New Jersey held his rights, he is unrestricted this time. And, if he comes back to the NHL, it is believed his eyes are on New York.
To be fair, Friedman says New York here and not specifically the Rangers. But based on the history of the situation Kovalchuk has been primarily linked to the Rangers.
Back in April it was reported that if Kovalchuk returns to the NHL that NYC would be his preference.
Kovalchuk would likely prefer to stay in NYC or wind up in Florida. Wife and 4 kids are a major factor. It will be sign-and-trade, though.— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) April 30, 2017
Friedman also reported in May in his then 30 Thoughts column this:
15. Also wondering if the Islanders will make a hard push for Ilya Kovalchuk. It makes sense for them, although they will have to convince him they are going for it now. Russian sources believe Kovalchuk had serious interest in the Rangers, but a) I’m not sure of their interest, and b) I’m not sure they could pull it off if they wanted to. Sounds like Florida has also inquired. But, if he was interested in the New York area, why wouldn’t the Islanders try?
Furthermore, Brett Cyrgalis confirmed the Rangers’ interest in the Russian winger in a post back in June.
The Rangers also had interest, but Shero understandably was hesitant to trade him right across the river. It all led to Shero being unable to find a deal worth doing, so the 34-year-old winger was set to re-sign with his current team, SKA St. Petersburg.
The Rangers now might have a chance to sign Kovalchuk next summer without giving up one of their blue-chip prospects.
I bring all this up to provide context and to highlight this is more than just a rumor. The Rangers clearly had interest in Kovalchuk then, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they tried and signed the KHL’s current leading scorer (31-32-62 in 53 games played, 1.19 P/GP) if he wants to come back to the NHL.
He turns 35 on April 15th, but Kovalchuk can still play. In 298 KHL games Kovalchuk has 327 points, and last season he finished with 78 points in 60 games.
The competition isn’t that of the NHL, but it is nothing to sneeze at.
Kovalchuk’s age actually helps the Rangers because they could sign him to a one-year deal with performance bonus incentives to provide security in the event he struggles. It would also limit his in-season contract. If he were to hit the bonuses it would be a problem for the next season which wouldn’t be a huge deal. I don’t anticipate severe struggles happening, but there’s nothing wrong with taking precautions.
Kovalchuk retired from the NHL with 417 goals and 816 points in 816 games played, and it is fair to say he has more to give. At the very least he’d be a companion for Pavel Buchnevich, his teammate of 18 games with SKA St. Petersburg during the 2015-16 season, as he continues to acclimate to North America.
Whether or not he would be a fit for the Rangers is another story for another day, and one that is up for debate.