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Kovalchuk on Lamoriello: ‘He’s a great man’

But the ex-Devil is courting interest from several teams for his NHL return

New Jersey Devils Re-Sign Ilya Kovalchuk
They’ve done business before, is what we’re saying.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Does Lou Lamoriello taking the helm of the New York Islanders pave the way for the team to land KHL free agent Ilya Kovalchuk?

That’s been the speculation, the connecting of dots (including at this site) since Lamoriello’s appointment was announced. But as always is the case, there is more required than simply rekindling past relationships.

In a phone interview “with the Dreger Report,” Kovalchuk said he has kept in touch with Lamoriello since his 2013 faux “retirement” from the Devils and the NHL, and he appreciated how Lamoriello handled the loopholes necessary to get all parties out of Kovalchuk’s mammoth contract in New Jersey. That enabled his return to Russia to play in the KHL before it hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Kovalchuk called Lamoriello “a great man.” You know Lamoriello is going to (okay, already) pitch the Islanders to the Russian. But that Dreger piece also reports that, with new representation, Kovalchuk is drumming up interest around the league, his agency in contact with eight teams and looking to grow that list.

It’s easy for Kovalchuk’s camp to generate a bidding war, which is aided by strategic interviews such as this: right now he’s the only UFA that other teams can talk to. Dreger suggested something like Patrick Marleau’s three-year deal averaging $6.25 million per, no small expenditure on a 35-year-old, but certainly something for a new agent to shoot for rather than an over-35 incentive-laden deal. And of course, the Dreger piece includes the obligatory “but he says it’s about winning, not about the money” sentiment.

The risk here is that Kovalchuk is in his mid-30s, coming back from an easier league and lighter schedule than the NHL. His camp would note he’s an elite skater and point to the example of Jaromir Jagr, who came back just fine from the KHL. (Then again, can anyone in the entire world compare themselves to Jagr?)

If the Islanders (and Lou) are able to win him over on money and competitiveness, it’s a major addition that gives them some flexibility to move other assets and try to shore up their back end. But it comes at a price.

Update: The TSN Insider Trading crew discussed Kovalchuk, John Tavares and a host of other topics today, with Dreger saying he believes Kovalchuk is looking for a “two, maybe three year deal at $6-plus million.” I assume that’s “per season.” Pierre LeBrun Host James Duthie interjected that if Kovalchuk were to choose the Islanders, it would probably be contingent upon Tavares sticking around as well.

You can watch the segment here.