As one expected after the then-unbeliveable and stunning news of Ilya Kovalchuk "retiring" last Thursday, Ilya Kovalchuk has signed with another professional hockey franchise. As rumorted, Kovalchuk will play for SKA St. Petersburg. The Associated Press reported that he signed a four-year deal with the KHL team this morning per this article at Yahoo! Sports. The team's official website has stated the same. Terms of the agreement are not known as of this writing. I would expect it to be a massive amount of money to say the least.
The deal takes Kovalchuk to age 34. Over this past weekend, Harrison Mooney had this article at Puck Daddy stating that Kovalchuk would become an unrestricted free agent once he hits that age. And it just so happens that Kovalchuk's sister Arina stated that his plan is to play the next three seasons with SKA. I suppose he could play four or even five with a short extension (or he can sit out), but the larger point is the same. Kovalchuk "retired" to get out of his current contract but has a way back into the NHL years from now. Usually, in hockey and other sports, players go to a lesser league when their careers are fading in their current league. Since he's going back to St. Petersburg with more than plenty left in the tank and then might try to go up a level of competition when he's an older player, Kovalchuk clearly thinks differently.
It raises one larger question: would you want him back at age 35 if he does want to return? We all know how talented he is and for many of the greats, that talent can last for quite some time. The shot, at least, should still be a threat. However, his best years would definitely be behind them, assuming they already aren't right now. He was never much of a possession player and while his defense got better in New Jersey, the concern. Plus, much of his appeal is that he's so swift when he acts. He stays in incredible shape but if he starts losing his speed, then how effective can he be? While the term isn't yet released, Kovalchuk may be quite costly - a concern for any 35+ contract. He may be open to taking a not-so-lucrative deal just to get back into the league. But after he'll make what he does in Russia, would he really settle for so much less if a team is interested but only for a lower cost than he expects?
Lastly, general managers can have long memories. I'm sure some teams won't consider him at all. After all, the New Jersey Devils paid an unprecedented penalty to sign Kovalchuk to a big contract and he just up and left for a weaker league a week ago. That's not exactly the sort of commitment one may want for their organization. But some teams will see what he can do and decide that's more important than what he did. I can respect that. A GM should look to improve the team by any means. And I think they can convince themselves that it won't happen a second time, at least not to them. The old saying is that time heals all wounds; and it just might by the summer of 2018. Though I still think he wouldn't quite so welcome back in New Jersey. What do you think?