Did you not see this coming? It is coming up on the anniversary of Ilya Kovalchuk‘s retirement from the NHL. He left to go play hockey in his home country of Russia. He left the New Jersey Devils high and dry after they spent the offseason building around his skillset and his salary.
Social media brings a lot of good and a lot of bad when it comes to the sports world. The good is that we get sports news faster than we ever thought possible. It seems like we are a part of the team’s war room with so many beat writers and analysts make it easy to get information about every player in every league. The bad part about social media is there are fake stories going around all the time.
There is a story circulating that the Devils are in “negotiations” with Kovalchuk. Of course, there may be merits to this story, so I won’t comment on the story itself. The question of the day is would the NHL, and more specifically the Devils, welcome back Kovalchuk?
The way in which Kovalchuk left makes this an interesting story. He signed a 15-year contract that ended up costing the Devils their first-round draft pick (they eventually were rewarded with the 30th pick since he retired and the team got new ownership). Would Lou Lamoriello even consider bringing back a man who left mid-contract? He brought back players who left in free agency, like Jason Arnott and Bobby Holik, but never a guy who retired out of nowhere.
Would the locker room accept him back? This is a man who quit on his teammates. He left the team only one year removed from a Stanley Cup Final run. Although the team didn’t make the playoffs that year, they lost Kovalchuk and starting goalie Martin Brodeur for large chunks of a lockout shortened season.
There was a lot to be excited about in New Jersey with the signings of Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder, among others. They were finally trying to add secondary scoring. Then Kovalchuk just left. How can the locker room trust him? How will fellow foreign veterans like Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus understand that he took his ball and went home when they chose to stay with the team?
I think this may be too hard to predict, and a main reason to stay away from Kovalchuk.
Is bringing Kovalchuk back a good idea scheme-wise? It showed at times that head coach Peter DeBoer had to change the style of the team for it to make sense with him in the lineup. He is a sniper who thrives on having the puck. The Devils like to score by making strategic passes. He made his biggest impact on the powerplay, which the Devils were pretty good at without him. It seems like the team would have to change once again if they brought the sniper back.
Would the fans embrace his return? From what I have seen all season, there would be an even split between the hate and love section. Some fans cannot forgive and forget. Others just want a talent of his caliber on the team again. I think the fans would root for him to play well, but they may not like having someone they called a traitor on the team for close to a full calendar year.
In my opinion, bringing Kovalchuk back to the Devils is a bad idea. It’s understood that he is a great talent, but the questions that come with bringing him back are too large. Would the team then give back the first-round pick? Would fans look at the team differently? Would the other 29 NHL teams even allow his return? The team voided his contract, so would he even sign with the Devils? It is too much of a headache to deal with.
As long as he continues to build his house in New Jersey, there will be speculation that he is returning. Until something is concrete, all we have is that speculation. For now, the Devils need to focus on the players and free agents who currently play in the NHL.