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No Sign & Trade for Devils; Ilya Kovalchuk to Play in KHL in 2017-18

Reports from Larry Brooks, Andrew Gross, and Mike Morreale confirmed that Ilya Kovalchuk will be playing in the KHL in 2017-18. There will be no sign and trade for the Devils. This post is a reaction to this news.

Andre Ward v Sergey Kovalev 2
Oh, this picture is just too perfect.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Instead of a bang, the Kovy Affair ‘17 ended on the Fourth of July with a whimper.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the New Jersey Devils offseason was something I called Kovy Affair ‘17. Ilya Kovalchuk voluntarily retired from the Devils in July 2013 to go play for SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League. The reports came out in April 2017 that he wanted to come back to the National Hockey League. This was something different for the NHL. As he was 34, his options to return to the NHL were the following: 1) to sign with the Devils and play for the Devils, 2) sign with the Devils and be traded to another team, or 3) hope all 30 teams would approve a return for Kovalchuk. #3 wasn’t happening and Kovalchuk was not particularly interested in #1. It looked like Kovalchuk was to be a part of a sign-and-trade deal. We learned that the earliest it could happen would be on July 1. It wouldn’t impact the 2017 NHL Entry Draft or the Las Vegas Expansion Draft. Much was made of this, whether it was hoping Ray Shero could turn Kovalchuk into a free and useful asset or just expecting something at all. It would also set a precedent of sorts for any potential sign-and-trades in the league.

July 1 came and we learned that the earliest an announcement would be made on Monday, July 3. On July 3, nothing else really happened. There was word that Kovalchuk reportedly wanted a three-year, $6.5 million per year deal. Today, though, appears to be the conclusion of Kovy Affair ‘17 and that is: nothing. No return to the NHL. No trade for the Devils. No three-year contract in the NHL at any salary. Nothing.

I first saw the word come from Larry Brooks, veteran hockey writer with the New York Post.

Andrew Gross confirmed it as per this article at Additional confirmation came from Mike Morreale, who Tweeted that Jay Grossman - Kovalchuk’s agent for at least North American hockey - confirmed he’s going back to the KHL. As Brooks provided the news, my first guess was that Kovalchuk wanted to go the Rangers and Shero didn’t have a deal that was comfortable with. After all, Brooks has been reporting on the Rangers for years. However, Gross’ article did confirm interest from Columbus and Chicago too. Clearly, it was not enough either for Kovalchuk or for the Devils to make a deal.

The most important thing comes from Brooks’ second tweet. Kovalchuk made this decision. I said it from the start: Kovalchuk had the juice. If he wasn’t going to get a deal that he liked or the Devils couldn’t make a trade happen, then he could walk. Which is what is happening now. He had all the power. I’m not so much mad but I am annoyed. Annoyed that this was dragged out with the possibility of it leading to something to help the Devils for the future; and it ended with nothing. Kovalchuk isn’t coming back. Fine. Whatever, dude. At least he isn’t in the NHL.

Without knowing the details, I don’t blame Shero for not making a deal happen. I have no idea what a team would even offer. If the Rangers were truly the leading candidate and Kovalchuk’s desired team, then I know I would demand a very high price if I were in Shero’s shoes. Why help a divisional opponent and your most hated rival? Further, the Devils didn’t really lose anything. They technically never had anything other than a possibility. Getting something remarkably low like a seventh rounder or “future considerations” may not be worth the effort. Especially if it was all Our Hated Rivals offered.

What happens now? Well, Kovalchuk will go back to the KHL, get paid real well on a team (SKA? Could it be anyone else but SKA St. Petersburg?) that will hopefully not become insolvent like Dynamo Moscow, likely be a top-ten scorer in a league he kind of dominates, play in the Olympics, hope he doesn’t get another injury or need another surgery again, and then try this NHL comeback again next summer. Next summer, Kovalchuk will be 35 and he would be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018. He does not need to go through the Devils. He does not need any special approval. Whoever wants him can sign him to a contract. One that can’t be easily erased and could be beefed up with bonuses to yield the salary Kovalchuk would likely want if he’s good enough to earn it.

As for the Devils, they will move on. There are holes remaining on the roster and team that Shero has to re-build. As for you, well, let me know in the comments how you feel about all of this ending with Kovalchuk staying at home. As always, keep your comments clean. As for me, I hope it’s the end of a long and kind of annoying chapter of this franchise. It was usually not simple with Kovalchuk. At least it was today. He’s not coming back this year. Thank you for reading.