Ilya Kovalchuk wants back in the NHL. That much was confirmed by agent Jay Grossman through Devils’ GM Ray Shero on Tuesday.

His return to the league will be greeted with plenty of intrigue as a dynamic goal scorer with some of the same game-breaking abilities as his countryman, Alex Ovechkin. Still, there’s also a wealth of questions in figuring out exactly what uniform he’ll wear when he returns.

Figuring out exactly what the structure will be in a sign-and-trade is probably trickiest part. And at this moment, a sign-and-trade appears to be the ultimate conclusion when it comes the question of whether or not the Russian winger, who bolted from the team in 2013, will return to the Garden State.

TSN Insider’s, Pierre LeBrun and Bob McKenzie provided some information regarding the matter on Tuesday in a series of tweets Tuesday afternoon.

LeBrun added that Shero said Grossman, the agent for Kovalchuk, is free to speak to other teams about a potential deal.

Any team that is planning on signing the 34-year-old winger, who remains on the NHL’s Voluntarily Retirement List and is free to come off it upon signing a contract for the 2017-18 season, would also need to figure out the structure for a trade with New Jersey–the only way in which he can join a team without unanimous approval from all 30 other teams.

LeBrun, who was on TSN 1050’s ‘Leafs Lunch’ went on to add that while there is no generic structure of a deal the Devils are looking to follow through potential trade negotiations, the challenge will be to find a deal that reels in the best compensation while meeting the want of Grossman for his client.

Whatever that deal is though, the Devils aren’t coming to the table with a bad hand. Equipped with cap space and Kovalchuk, they possess two things teams covet, as Lebrun also noted.

“There could be a situation where the Devils take advantage of a cap-strapped team and get assets to help in a hurry,” he said.

So what’s the potential return one can expect for a player who retired with 816 points in 816 NHL games and is coming off his most productive KHL season with 78 point in 60 games? That remains unknown, but for New Jersey there’s no shortage of needs.

The Devils will enter June’s draft with the first overall selection and 11 picks–that should help bolster one of the league’s thinnest prospect pools. That isn’t to say though that they aren’t still looking to add youthful pieces. And presumably for Kovalchuk, they’d want a piece that is closer than further from playing in the league.

Chief needs for the team is a top-four defenseman who can skate along the right side–an area that was weakened with the loss of Adam Larsson in the offseason. The team also is need of some additional top-six forwards to take the burden off the first line of Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, who were relied on too often to be the sole source of offense last season.

Since Kovalchuk’s departure, the Devils have finished in the bottom-five of league scoring. The team craves another scoring threat, an area addressed last summer by bringing in Hall, but still an area of concern. If that’s going to happen via trade, it likely begins and ends with him.

The Devils enter the offseason with more than $21 million in cap space and their only major free agents are all restricted in Beau Bennett, Jacob Josefson, Stefan Noesen and Damon Severson, None of which are due for big pay raises. That means plenty of space left over to accommodate a contract, similar to last summer when they acquired Marc Savard from Florida for a pair of picks. With Kovalchuk in the deal, they could likely get that and more for a cap dump-like deal.

It is worth noting that neither Kovalchuk, his agent or the Devils’ organization has denied the possibility of the winger returning to the Devils. So, signing a contract with no intent of a sign-and-trade isn’t out of the question. Either way, he cannot officially sign anywhere until July 1. But safe to say the process surrounding and involving his return to the NHL is officially underway.

About The Author

Mad about being born into a Mets household during the Yankees dynasty, Neal McHale turned to something different after the 2000 World Series. He got NHL 2001 as a gift and it helped pioneer a hockey love affair. His first sportswriting gig was covering the historically-gritty Big East Conference. Since 2015, he's been with Inside Hockey covering the NHL.

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