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Kovalchuk’s Possible Return: To Trade or Not to Trade

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Ilya Kovalchuk may finally be on his way back to the NHL. His ability to play all hinges on signing with the New Jersey Devils; if he does sign, should the Devils keep him or trade him in hopes of improving the team?

Florida Panthers v New Jersey Devils

You know it’s the offseason when we’re discussing the seemingly annual New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk rumors! Recently, reports have surfaced indicating that Kovy is on his way back to the NHL and John wrote an extended piece about it. Today, I look at the two options the Devils could explore: bringing him back into the fold, or signing and trading him.

Come Back Kovy

Ilya Kovalchuk infamously left the New Jersey Devils after the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, citing a desire to retire from the NHL and return to playing in his native Russia. The remainder of his 15 year contract would be wiped off of the books, and the Devils would be left with scraps of the team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals just two years before.

Kovalchuk is, from all accounts, still a premiere scoring talent, at least in the KHL, and if there’s one thing the Devils could use to improve it’s their defense putting the puck in the back of the net. We know that Kovy can do that, and if he’s willing to sign and come back to New Jersey, some would say there’s no reason not to bring what is probably at least another 20 goals into this currently scoring-anemic (outside of Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, Taylor Hall and even somewhat Travis Zajac) fold.

Guys such as Travis Zajac, Cory Schneider, Andy Greene and Michael Cammalleri are not getting younger and are all over 30; while Zajac and Schneider should still have some gas in the tank, Cam and Greene looked to take a step back this season. If the Devils feel they can shore up a few weaknesses this summer (looking at you defense) and push for the postseason with Kovy in the fold, then what’s to stop them from trying to bring playoff hockey back to Jersey?

While the thought of Hall/Zajac/Palmieri and Henrique/Kovalchuk (along with someone not named Cammalleri) is enticing, it doesn’t really take into account long term success, which results in stretches such as the last 5 seasons. As a result of that, it might be worth exploring the other option at hand.

Stockpile More Assets

The other side of this coin obviously is to sign Kovalchuk to a contract and then flip him to a Cup competitor to continue building towards the future; his rights cannot be traded, so if he wants to play elsewhere this season, this is the most realistic route to go. If New Jersey truly believes that they won’t be serious competitors while Kovy is still playing, the best action becomes to move him for prospects and/or draft picks.

There may or may not be a team that feels they are one scoring winger away from being a true competitor come playoff time, and they might be willing to part with some assets to acquire Kovalchuk. Sending him off to a team that is not hesitant to part with a high draft pick, decently to highly valued prospect, or some combination of those parts may not help the Devils this upcoming season, but they certainly could be important building block to have the team be competitive for a string of years rather than just a couple.

Working in the Devils favor right now is the fact that they do have some younger pieces coming through the pipeline that appear as though they will be able to contribute to the NHL team. Additionally, we have a new director of scouting in Paul Castron who helped to identify some key pieces for the Columbus Blue Jackets to draft in his time with them. Hopefully he will be able to do the same here in New Jersey in the long run; as a side note, that Michael McLeod pick is looking pretty good right now. With this in mind, another draft pick in the first round for either this season or more likely next could give the Devils an additional asset that will be contributing in a couple of years.

Your Take

Now I’d like to hear what you think the Devils should do with Ilya Kovalchuk; does he even come back to the NHL in the first place this season? Do you want to see him in New Jersey possibly opposite of Taylor Hall? Do you think the more sensible route is to trade him for picks and/or prospects? Will he attempt to come back this season only to be blocked by not coming to terms with Jersey’s Team? Leave any and all comments/thoughts below and thank you as always for reading!