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More Ilya Kovalchuk Rumors: Could He Stay with SKA St. Petersburg?

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Ilya Kovalchuk rumors abound today. Elliotte Friedman had a small report and Alexander Medvedev of SKA St. Petersburgh made a big claim that he’ll re-sign with SKA. This post sums up both rumors with a quick reaction.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 11 - Russia v Norway
Kovalchuk wants to play in the Olympics - and so he will re-sign with SKA. So says Alexander Medvedev, President of SKA. Sure.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Today, the Kovy Affair ‘17 may have taken another turn towards more potential drama. The current situation up until today was that Ilya Kovalchuk and his representation were speaking with other teams. The earliest the Devils could sign the Russian winger would be July 1, where upon it would be likely he would be signed just to be traded. Some rumors have come out regarding this situation. Let’s start with the more local one.

First, TVA Sports has this short update citing Elliotte Friedman providing an updated on Sportsnet 960 in Calgary. Here’s the Google translation of the French report:

"Someone told me he thought Kovalchuk would get a big deal, but I'm not 100% certain of the favorite team in the race."

"I heard he wanted to join the New York Rangers, but I doubt they will move to get it," he added.

According to Sportsnet, Kovalchuk would like to return to the NHL after winning the Gargarin Cup for the second time in the KHL.

I would hope that the Rangers would not move to get Kovalchuk. I don’t want the Devils to give them Kovalchuk short of undercutting them in someway. Like, oh, taking Brady Skjei back for him. (Maybe not even then, I don’t know, I thought about it for 10 seconds before going, “No.”) Montreal is more palatable from both a competitive and rivalry standpoint. The Canadiens are not in the same division as the Devils, they’re already ahead of the Devils so to speak, and I can sleep at night with a Devils-Montreal trade than dealing the potential nightmare of a deal with Our Hated Rivals. All the same, this can be classified as a rumor. As it’s from Friedman, I’m willing to post it and share it as he’s more credible than most.
But that’s not the big one. The big one comes out of Russia. From TASS.ru, the fourth largest press service in the world, here is a report by Dmitry Rachitsky citing SKA St. Petersberg president Alexander Medvedev regarding his player, Ilya Kovalchuk. Hat tip to r/hockey, where I first saw this; this is the Google translation:

MOSCOW, May 29. / Corr. Dmitry Rachitsky. Forward Ilya Kovalchuk wants to sign a new contract with the club of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) SKA. This was reported by TASS member of the board of directors of the St. Petersburg club Alexander Medvedev.

...

"Our conversation with Kovalchuk will continue, we are at the stage of discussing the details of his contract.Ilya wants to stay at the club.The reason is simple - he wants to participate in the Olympic Games.I have a good hope that he will remain in the SKA," said Medvedev .

Medvedev is claiming that Kovalchuk wants to play in the Olympics in 2018. Which he can do if he stays in the Kontinental Hockey League. If true (or he signs with SKA for some other reason), then there would be no sign and trade for the Devils.

Is it worrisome? It is if you were banking on the Devils flipping Kovalchuk for an asset(s) this summer. Kovalchuk re-signing with SKA could lead to the following scenario: In 2017-18, Kovalchuk will play for SKA and presumably represent the Russians at the Olympics. Short of a horrid season and assuming it’s a one-year contract, Kovalchuk could then return to the NHL in Summer 2018 as a completely unrestricted free agent next season. He’ll then be free to sign with whoever wants him and without whoever wanting him having to make a deal with New Jersey like they would now.

I’m calling this a rumor because it really is only saying that there are negotiations between Kovalchuk’s representation in Russia and SKA. That’s not exactly the same as meaning he’s staying in Russia. If Kovalchuk does not get the interest that he expects in the NHL, then he may have this deal as a back-up plan. Likewise, having such a deal in his back pocket would aid him in negotiations in the NHL - it may give him some leverage. After all, from Friedman, we know of at least two teams that may have interest. How much Kovalchuk can command will develop that interest further. Additionally, Medvedev represents SKA St. Petersburg, Kovalchuk’s current team. He has every interest to cast any doubt on any NHL rumors, dealings, and reports. It doesn’t hurt him or SKA to do so. At best, it’ll cool off some NHL interest and make it more likely he’ll come back to his team, SKA St. Petersburg. Even so, the last statement is telling, emphasis mine: “I have a good hope that he will remain in the SKA.” Maybe it’s me, but that doesn’t read like a guarantee either. Just a wish. Lastly, there really isn’t anyone else on this side of the pond proclaiming this will happen. I mean, Pierre LeBrun just did a sit down interview with Ray Shero today at TSN and they talked about Kovalchuk for several minutes and neither brought this up. You’d think that it’d be a question if it was happening. I don’t doubt that Medvedev said what he said. I just doubt if it really means anything.

Ultimately, this latest development of the Kovy Affair ‘17 just further proves a point I’ve made in the past posts about this. This really could all be a ploy to drive a better deal with his KHL team. This was a possibility from the first time the reports came out in April. Kovalchuk could turn around at any point and go back to the KHL. I’d be shocked if Kovalchuk’s NHL representation will give up with July 1 so far away, but it’s really up to Kovalchuk to do what’s best for him - which is what this all may be about anyway.

Of course, I wouldn’t give up hope for a sign and trade yet. I don’t think Friedman has anything to report if Kovalchuk was already intending to go back to Russia and I’d like to think many more would report that to be the case. Until Kovalchuk actually signs with SKA St. Petersburg, the drama will remain. It isn’t simple, but it never really is with Kovalchuk. After all, I’m calling this Kovy Affair ‘17 because of it.