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Ilya Kovalchuk (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Ilya Kovalchuk (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Have you ever heard someone give you advice to the effect that if you love something, you should set it free, and if it returns, it was meant to be? Next time you hear someone tell you that, tell that person that it is only half true.

On July 11, 2013, the New Jersey Devils released Ilya Kovalchuk from a monstrous 17-year deal. Four days later, Kovalchuk inked a four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. Well now that contract is coming to an end, and Kovalchuk has been rumored to have expressed a desire to return North America. Except this time, it won’t be with the Devils.

The New Jersey Devils still own the rights to Ilya Kovalchuk should he return. But according to Russian sports reporter Slava Malamud via Twitter, it is looking like a sign-and-trade deal for the 34-year old forward will occur. Malamud also indicated that while nothing is confirmed, Kovalchuk’s most likely destinations are the New York City area or Florida. So while it looks like Kovalchuk is headed for the NHL, New Jersey might not be his destination.

ATTN: Garth Snow. Make a serious inquiry. Scratch that. Make a serious push for Ilya Kovalchuk.

Before Islanders’ fans get upset for even suggesting to bring in another veteran and thereby taking away a roster spot that could be otherwise reserved for a younger player in his rookie or sophomore season in the NHL, hear me out. If Snow does not provide John Tavares with a bona-fide elite winger and/or an arena to play in located in the area not named Barclays Center, he will leave. And who would blame him?

Acquiring Kovalchuk brings much needed depth in all forward lines in addition to a sure-fire scorer to complement Tavares’ incredible play-making abilities. Last year with SKA St. Petersburg, in 60 games played, Kovalchuk put up 32 goals and 46 assists (78 points) en route to a Gagarin Cup victory. Sure, he had some help from “The Magician” himself, Pavel Datsyuk, who left his former NHL club, the Detroit Red Wings (well, technically the Arizona Coyotes), last summer. Nevertheless, in 2015-16, Kovalchuk still put up 49 points in 50 games. The year prior, Kovalchuk won the Gagarin Cup after a 55-point season in 54 games.

In 245 total games played in the KHL, Ilya Kovalchuk posted 107 goals and 157 points (264 points). In 816 games played in the NHL for the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils, Kovalchuk scored 417 goals and 399 assists, for a total of 816 points. In the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kovalchuk had the most goals with eight. The Devils lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the Finals. The point is, Kovalchuk has been consistently a point-per-game player his entire professional career. If Kovalchuk only registered half his points totals, he would still have five more than that of Andrew Ladd’s this season.

Nothing against Ladd, and yes, he did have a much better second half to the season. But had become evident that Ladd on the top line means the Islanders are not deep enough for a serious playoff run. If Kovalchuk went to the Islanders, such an acquisition would, at least in the short-term, push the Isles over the edge. This would no doubt buy Snow some time as General Manager of the team.

I would be hard-pressed to believe that the New York Rangers would go after Ilya Kovalchuk given the tightness in the salary cap situation there. In terms of Kovalchuk’s other supposed desired destinations, Tampa Bay seems to be all set as most of their young players have blossomed. And for the Florida Panthers, Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo seem to be the resident-elder statesmen and it is doubtful the organization will look to acquire another player on the wrong side of 30. Thus, it’s almost as if Kovalchuk is destined to be with the Islanders.

Joshua Ho-Sang has shown that he has what it takes to crack the main roster, as well as Anthony Beauvillier. Matthew Barzal needed some more time with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League to develop his defensive game. He is still very young and might need a few more season of minor and/or AHL hockey before he is ready for full-time NHL duty. Michael Dal Colle had a solid season in Bridgeport, but he may still need more time to adjust to the pro game.

In the meantime, Kovalchuk could be the reason Tavares stays. If Garth Snow does not trade the Devils for his rights, he should at least have a seat at the table and explore his options. After all, the Islanders’ future, and his own, may depend on it.

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Evan is the Hockey Editor for DoubleGSports.com. He provides coverage of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as some league-wide content.
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