LeBrun | All roads lead through New Jersey for Kovalchuk

(Robert Hradil/EQ Images/Icon Sportswire)

Ilya Kovalchuk absolutely would like to play in the National Hockey League for the 2017-18 campaign.

A series of tweets from TSN’s Pierre LeBrun on Tuesday morning indicated that New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero confirmed with Kovalchuk’s agent, Jay Grossman, that the veteran winger “definitely wants to return to the NHL next season.”

Shero also told LeBrun that the agent is free to speak with other teams about a potential deal, although it would be a sign-and-trade situation.

Lebrun’s colleague, Bob McKenzie, further clarified via tweet a short time later that the “agent can agree to contract terms with new team, new team can agree to trade terms with NJ, NJ signs Kovalchuk and trades him.”

During a series of tweets, McKenzie also noted that “in answer to many questions, no, 2017 draft picks cannot be in play as part of any Kovalchuk trade and expansion draft total non-factor.”

All of today’s information also follows a recent report from Elliotte Friedman on Hockey Night in Canada.

“The word is out that Ilya Kovalchuk wants to come back, that this is starting to be put in motion,” said Friedman on April 22. “Now, this is how it works: the New Jersey Devils own his rights. He could sign and play for them no problem. If he wants to play for somebody else, technically all the other NHL teams would have to approve it.

“But – and here’s the way I think this is going to work – if he doesn’t want to play for New Jersey or New Jersey doesn’t want him playing for them, and neither the agent nor the team is commenting about this,  I think whoever gets him is going to work out either a sign and trade with New Jersey or they’re going to trade for his rights.

“But Kovalchuk has let it be known he wants to come back, and I think there will be significant interest.”

The 34-year-old winger retired from the NHL in July of 2013 and has been playing in the KHL ever since.

Kovalchuk collected 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games for SKA St. Petersburg this season.

Tuesday morning, LeBrun followed up his tweets about Kovalchuk during a co-hosting appearance on Toronto’s TSN’s 1050.

“Ray Shero confirms that he has the ‘official official’ green light from the Kovalchuk camp that he wants to come back to the National Hockey League, and so the sweepstakes are on,” declared LeBrun. “Obviously it requires a sign-and-trade, essentially, for him to come back.

“Shero has given Jay Grossman, the agent, the green light to reach out to teams directly to see what the fit is, potentially, and then obviously all roads lead through New Jersey.

“He can’t sign until July 1, so there’s lots of time for this to play out.”

LeBrun sees Devils among teams trying to land Shattenkirk

The Devils finished last in the Metropolitan Division this season, were third-worst in the entire league, and just won the draft lottery.

Is there any chance Kovalchuk would want to skate for his old team?

“I don’t think that’s likely,” said LeBrun. “I think the likelihood here is him going to a team that’s closer to winning, which is not an insult to the Devils. I mean listen, Ray Shero knows where his rebuild is right now and I think he’s made some pretty significant steps so far with it. But Kovalchuk, at 34, what makes the most sense for everyone?

“Now, if Kovalchuk goes out there with his agent and doesn’t get the deal that he wanted or is surprised by the interest or lack thereof – I doubt that’s going to be the case, but let’s just say that is the case – maybe the Devils are a fallback.

“But I think, all things being equal, this is about going to a contender and the Devils getting something out of it.

“Now, this is important to remember: a year from now – let’s say Kovalchuk goes back to Russia for one more year – a year from now, at the age of 35, he becomes an official NHL UFA. The Devils no longer have control over him. So this is the last window for the Devils to get some compensation for Ilya Kovalchuk.

“On the flip side, this is essentially his last chance to sign a multi-year deal in the NHL because a year from now he’ll be 35. Teams are nervous about 35-and-over guys. It’s hard to get multi-year deals.

“So at 34, this is an important window for him, it’s also an important window for the Devils.”

LeBrun was asked about potential interest from the Montreal Canadiens in Kovalchuk, given how badly the Canadiens seem to need goals on an annual basis.

“I don’t know if they are for sure,” said LeBrun. “I think there’s a lot of different things that Marc Bergevin is going to have go through here as he figures out how to improve his team offensively.

“I think if you look at the type of teams that Jay Grossman is probably going to reach out to, they’re probably pretty obvious, right – the teams that are closer to winning a Cup, big markets. So for sure I think they’ll call the Rangers. For sure I think they’ll call the San Jose Sharks. The list goes on. I think some of the teams are obvious. But at the end of the day, does Montreal get into this or not? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t shock me.”

What sort of contract number might we be talking about for Kovalchuk here?

“Radulov is younger, but you look at what he signed for in Montreal last year, just as an example of a high-profile Russian that came back from the KHL,” reflected LeBrun. “He signed for what, $5.75 million for one year?

“Now obviously Kovalchuk is going to want multi years, or else he’s not coming back. That’s the whole point here – it’s his last shot at a multi-year deal. I’ve got to think despite his age that you’re looking at between $5-6.5 million per year.”

LeBrun was co-hosting Leafs Lunch on TSN 1050 on Tuesday, and naturally he was asked if Kovalchuk makes sense as a Toronto Maple Leaf.

“He really doesn’t, except that just because something doesn’t make sense in terms of it’s not even a need – I mean, the Leafs obviously are loaded up front and need to reconstruct their blueline in some fashion or other over the next few years,” said LeBrun. “Having said that though, you’ve seen this from smart GMs over the years where you just beef up where you’re good anyway because it just becomes an asset, and then someone else can get dealt to help your blueline.

“I’d be pretty surprised if the Leafs got in on this, myself, to be honest. I could be wrong.

“Listen, it’s early in the process. Jay Grossman hasn’t even started the process yet. But I think a lot of the teams that you’re going to start hearing – the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers – I think those types of teams early on… because I think it’s also about where Kovalchuk wants to be.

“So we’ll see.”

LeBrun also added another point in relation to team possibilities.

“I know some people have already speculated, ‘Well, what about L.A.?” the Insider said. “Because of course the Kings are the team that were competing with the Devils for his services that summer. And that thing dragged out all summer.

“I don’t think Rob Blake, first-year GM, I don’t think that’s an add. Even though the Kings need scoring, I don’t think he thinks that where he should be going right now. But we’ll see.”

In terms of what the Devils might want from another team in exchange for Kovalchuk, there may not be a set answer at this point.

“I don’t think Ray Shero is going to tell teams he has a generic ask,” said LeBrun. “And I’ll tell you why: I think there are certain teams right now that are cap-stricken. And keep an eye on the Devils in all of this. The Devils have, I believe, the most cap room of any team in the NHL entering the off-season. And they’re about to trade Ilya Kovalchuk.

“There could be a situation where I think the Devils could take advantage of a team that wants Kovalchuk that has all kinds of cap problems, and get some players back to help them in a hurry.

“Now, if it’s another team that has a high draft pick that wants Kovalchuk, maybe that appeals to Ray Shero.

“So what I’m saying is I don’t think there’s a generic model here that the Devils are going to follow in terms of an ask for Kovalchuk. I think it’s really going to depend on the team.

“Here’s the last thing I’ll say: what the Devils believe is their best chance of compensation – in terms of a match with another team – may not necessarily at the end of the day overlap with what Jay Grossman and Ilya Kovalchuk find is the best destination.

“So this’ll be interesting, trying to marry those two moons in terms of what the Devils want and what Jay Grossman and Ilya Kovalchuk want.”

Source: Sportsnet, TSN 1050

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