If you ask a New Jersey Devils fan what their opinion is of Ilya Kovalchuk coming back to the NHL, you will get three answers:
1) He will be welcomed back with welcomed arms as he is a massive solution to our scoring woes, especially as the (New Jersey) Devils have had issues this season scoring 5 on 5, and more recently they have relied on the power play to score goals.
2) The only reason he will be welcomed is to trade his rights to another team for assets.
3) A resounding no based on morality regardless of the outcome of him coming back.
If you’re not aware of the history, the Devils traded with the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers in 2010 and added Kovalchuk to their roster. The Devils gave up defenseman Johnny Oduya, rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, junior prospect Patrice Cormier and a first round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Once Kovalchuk’s contract came to an end, the Devils began negotiation of a new contract in the off-season, which lead to (what a fan of any other team no doubt describes as) entertainment; this was due to the first contract being rejected by the NHL due to claims it circumvented the rules of the salary cap.
A second contract was negotiated and accepted, however the NHL advised that the consequences of such a result was the loss of a first round and third round draft pick and a monetary fine. The Devils did appeal the loss of the first round pick and did receive it back, albeit the 30th pick regardless of where they finished in the season.
At the end of the 2012 season where the New Jersey Devils lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final, the Devils held the 29th pick. This is where, at the time, I would have given the first round draft pick as compensation; however the Devils used the pick. In hindsight it wasn’t really a good decision that fans were happy with, including myself, however it ended up turning out ok.
After two full seasons and the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13, a shock announcement was made that Ilya Kovalchuk was retiring from the NHL on grounds he wanted to play back at home in the KHL. This came after he played in the KHL during a lockout-shortened 2012-13 NHL season, and even delayed returning to the New Jersey Devils after a new player’s agreement was ratified.
Fast forward to now and the rumours of him returning to the NHL return (and tend to every year), of course around the trade deadline. What makes this more interesting this time is that there has been a public comment made that (apparently from) Kovalchuk if his benching does not stop, he will cancel his contract and return to North America (sounding familiar?).
If you read the article from Sports Illustrated that was posted last year, you will see that there are ways for Kovalchuk to return to the NHL, and after the latest rumours, it has fuelled debate once again.
So the question is, should Ilya Kovalchuk be allowed to return to the NHL? As you can see from the Sports Illustrated article, and the various opinions of New Jersey Devils fans, it’s not an easy answer.
For me, I liken him to the phrase “He who should not be named” as I fall quite strongly in to category 3. As a Devils fan and my upbringing, I place integrity, principles, and loyalty as strong values.
I just cannot allow myself to want a player on the team when they put their own selfish needs ahead of the logo on the jersey (to paraphrase Lou Lamoriello); Kovalchuk used the excuse of going home to quit on the Devils, however it was also in regards to a better tax rate and higher paid income which helped him move back to Russia.
He is now doing a repeat (although more publicly than the shock of retiring from the NHL) by threatening to leave his KHL team and return to North America. This just shows the sort of character and person he is. Why on earth would any NHL team want that sort of risk, let alone character, in their locker room? Kovalchuk is creating a pattern for himself and soon no one will want to touch him, not only due to possibly upping and quitting on his current team, but potentially the locker room atmosphere he may create.
As much as the New Jersey Devils need more scoring in any regard (and let’s be honest, these past several games have been nothing short of embarrassing), they should not be looking to Kovalchuk as a solution, especially when they have Pavel Zacha (2015 sixth overall draft pick) currently playing in the OHL and doing well who should be making the team next season, the upcoming trade deadline and free agency period, all before next season. Ray Shero has shown he is looking at a long term rebuild and should not be looking at a short term solution that is Kovalchuk.
If the New Jersey Devils do not offer a new contract to Kovalchuk, his only options will be to request a vote from all 30 General Managers to allow him to return, or to wait until his current KHL contract ends and wait a full year without playing any sort of hockey. This puts Kovalchuk’s age at 35, and starting to get to an age where his time may run out to return to the NHL as an effective player.
I’d be very happy to never see him in the NHL again, but that’s just me.