New York Rangers Rumored to Sign Ilya Kovalchuk to Multi-Year Deal

On February 7 we ran a story titled Ilya Kovalchuk Rumored To Have Eyes on New York If He Returns to NHL which outlined the history of interest involving both parties. According to Igor Eronko the team is set to sign the soon-to-be 35-year-old winger.

This is just one report but as noted in our update from February there is enough history to believe that this is something that’s going to happen. The news comes on the heels of SKA Saint Petersburg being eliminated from the KHL playoffs.

Update: 10:53 a.m.

Bob McKenzie was on Montreal’s TSN 690’s and talked about a few things related to the Rangers including the Kovalchuk rumors.

I don’t doubt for a moment that Kovalchuk is going to end up with the Rangers. {...}

I don’t believe for a moment the Rangers will sign him to a three-year deal. I think they’d like to sign him to a one-year deal. I think Kovalchuk probably wants a three-year deal. My guess is it ends up being a two-year deal.

So to your point – why does a rebuilding hockey team want a guy of his age in their lineup – because they figure they’re got holes in their lineup. And it’s New York, and they want to try to be as competitive as they can be.

When they said we’re going younger and we’re going to do this, this didn’t say we’re tearing it down and we’re going to be absolute dog meat for three years and bottom out in the league. What they said was we’re going to add a whole bunch of kids and we’re going to move some of our guys off our roster to do it.

There are some important things to note here, the first being that any deal isn’t official until July 1. Teams sign college and international free agents all the time, but Kovalchuk has to wait to return to the league as a bonafide unrestricted free agent until July 1 per the terms of his retirement from the NHL.


Prior to turning 35, if Kovalchuk wants to sign with another team, he would need approval from all 31 NHL teams. That’s unlikely to happen, but the Devils could sign Kovalchuk and either keep him or trade him.

Kovalchuk is free to speak to other NHL teams about a potential trade, according to Shero, who said a sign-and-trade has to make sense for the Devils. Kovalchuk cannot sign until July 1 and is not eligible for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.

Theoretically the Devils hold his rights until this upcoming Sunday, and to expedite the process they could do a sign and trade with the Rangers but there’s little point to doing so.

The rumored salary Kovalchuk is set to earn is $6 million a season.

Here a look at his potential cap hit by percent of cap.

Potential Implications of Ilya Kovalchuk Contract

Cap HitCap%

The Rangers have been scouting Kovalchuk’s team for some time because it is the home of prospects Yegor Rykov and Igor Shesterkin, and it is fair to assume they are confident in his abilities as a player. The KHL is different than the NHL in a major way, but a shooter like Kovalchuk would find a way to score at least 20.

That of course raises the question of why are the Rangers reportedly signing Kovalchuk?

Kevin wrote a story on that in March, and much of what he said then applies today.

Should the Rangers Pursue Ilya Kovalchuk?

I won’t rehash, but instead state a few quick hits

  • The Rangers will need talent for 2018-19, and have the cap space. Currently at $24,950,556 not including expect rise in cap which will be between $78 million and $82 million/
  • Kovalchuk would be a mentor to Pavel Buchnevich and other young players and his work ethic as a player is a good example for younger players.
  • The Rangers could acquire him and flip him later for a decent return/

Kovalchuk retired from the NHL with 417 goals and 399 assists for 816 points in 816 games, and his last three KHL seasons were solid.

Ilya Kovalchuk in the KHL 2015 to 2018


This is not to say that he’s a magic fix for all that ails the team, but a risk worth taking from a hockey standpoint. I think it goes without saying that there’s a stigma attached to him, and it is a situation worth looking at a little more closely.

The elephant in the room for some is the fact of Kovalchuk’s retirement, and that’s a situation that I feel is overblown. It is framed as a situation where he quit on the team, he betrayed them etc. This brings in the question of loyalty and desire etc. While it is true that playing in the KHL and being closer to home was something he wanted to do, his actions did help the franchise.

Here’s a quick timeline of notable events.

  • On June 20, 2013 Forbes ran a story with a headline New Jersey Devils Being Crushed By $230 Million Of Debt
  • On July 11, 2013, Kovalchuk retires from the NHL.
  • On August 15, 2013 the team was officially sold to Josh Harris and co-owner David Blitzer./

The timing of all the moves certainly speaks volumes, and it would make sense for the sale to go through after Kovalchuk’s contract was off the books.

As noted above in HockeyStatMiner’s tweet, the reaction to losing Kovalchuk saw the team sign Jaromir Jagr who helped the team in many ways.

Kovalchuk retiring helped the franchise financially, and more importantly undid a move that Lou Lamoriello didn’t want to make in the first place.

Via The Hockey News:

It’s a great, great day for the Devils, yet another when GM Lou Lamoriello once again seems to come out of a crisis looking like the genius he is, even if he had nothing to do with Kovalchuk’s decision. (Speculation from the start was that Lamoriello wanted nothing to do with the Kovalchuk contract and that it was being driven by ownership.)

The league also reversed its decision of penalizing the Devils by returning a first-round draft pick, which was another plus for them.

I don’t begrudge anyone who is against the move, but better that be for hockey reasons than the assumption that Kovalchuk “back stabbed” the Devils. Some might say a team in a rebuild has no place signing a player like him, but the organization is going to continue to run a business that has an interest in selling tickets and drawing eyeballs.

There is a fine balance that needs to worked out, but I can tell you it is unlikely for the Rangers to roll out a team made up of returning players and the remainder being occupied with prospects and kids from Hartford. If anything Kovalchuk’s potential signing could be in place of Nash who suffered another concussion.

Overall, this is just a report but one with a lot of traction. If the deal goes through there is the potential of a lot of upside for the Rangers. The Rangers are in a mode where they aren’t going to be signing players like John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, John Carlson etc. to long-term deals of five, six or seven years in length. Two or three years for Kovalchuk is fine given their financial flexibility and status as a team.

Ultimately it is hard to evaluate any move by itself. By that I mean once the summer is over we can sit back and look at things in totality. That will include draft selections, the coaching decision and other moves surrounding trades and free agency.

This move could be just one piece of the puzzle, and we will have to wait and see if this comes to fruition and the corresponding moves that follow.