In the ongoing saga of Ilya Kovalchuk, an interesting new entry has been spoken by SKA St. Petersburg president Alexander Medvedev. As Slava Malamud reports, the executive says Kovalchuk has “changed his mind” and that he “wants to stay now.” That would be an incredible shift after several months of saying he’s set on returning to the NHL.
As always, news from a club should be taken with a grain of salt as we have still yet to hear from Kovalchuk or his representation on the matter. It is interesting though as there has been recent speculation from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet that the New York Rangers, once thought of as a favorite to land him, may not have much interest. Malamud himself wonders if his interest in staying may be because of the lack of such interest in North America, though it would still be surprising to see him stay in Russia after such public declarations of his intended return.
Either way, it’s clear that the KHL is attempting to keep him there even as they try to bring players like Dmitry Orlov back from their NHL squads. Bringing Kovalchuk home was a big win for the KHL in legitimizing it as an option for players outside of the NHL, and losing him once again would weaken their position as a real competitor. Though they’ve brought back Nikita Tryamkin this spring, they’ve also seen an exodus of many young defensemen and watched one of their top forwards, Vadim Shipachyov head overseas after a long career.
Since it’s expected that Kovalchuk’s camp is after a big-money deal, there is a ton of risk for NHL clubs even on a relatively short-term. There is no guarantee that he’s up to his previous level, in fact his age and relatively poor performance in the playoffs should make many pause before offering anything. The Devils also stand in the way, as they hold the final decision in where the move him to. If they don’t get an asset up to their standards, they could stonewall both sides and force Kovalchuk back to the KHL.
It’s also important to note that should Kovalchuk spend one more year in the KHL, he’ll hit the market next summer as an unrestricted free agent and able to sign anywhere without going through New Jersey. He’d be 35 and because of that would likely have a smaller market due to the restrictions on 35+ contracts, but would at least be able to talk to teams without them having to give up an asset to sign a contract. He’d also get to play in the Olympics, likely a factor of some relevance as he nears the end of his career.