NEWARK, N.J. --
|Brodeur and Kovalchuk on Tuesday. |
When it comes to college sports, recruiting is everything. Coaches, players and sometimes famous alumni will do whatever it takes to sway a kid into playing at their school.
It wouldn't be crazy to think some members of the Devils would have gone to great lengths to convince Ilya Kovalchuk
to spend the rest of his career in New Jersey. After all, the 27-year-old is one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NHL -- and, as a free agent, he was able to offer his services to any team he so desired.
But that's not how it worked for the Devils. Patrik Elias
didn't call Kovalchuk to sell him on Atlantic City's casinos or the Jersey Shore. Zach Parise
wasn't incessantly texting Kovalchuk with promises of Stanley Cups and scoring titles. Players were definitely in touch with Kovalchuk, but it was more about lending support than convincing a star to return to the Garden State.
That may have meant more to Kovalchuk than any sales pitch could.
"He never tried to convince me," Kovalchuk said Tuesday when asked if Martin Brodeur
tried recruiting him back to New Jersey. "We were always calling each other back and forth. I actually asked him a couple questions and he always said whatever decision you make, make sure it's good and right for your family."
"I texted him, I talked to him," Brodeur said. "It was nothing about, 'Oh, come on, come on, come on.' We're not at the point of begging. We're doing well ourselves. I think for me, I wanted to make sure he was OK during that process because I never went through that process in my career, but I can understand how hard it is. Especially when you have young kids and you have a lot of people, agents. You have to deal with a different country trying to lure him out there. It's a tough situation.
"I called him more as a friend than as a teammate."
Kovalchuk said during Tuesday's news conference to announce his 17-year contract that the togetherness of the players was one of the reasons he wanted to come back to Devils after he was traded to New Jersey from Atlanta in February. He mentioned that Elias, a native of the Czech Republic, was able to communicate in Russian, something Kovalchuk appreciated.
Elias, like Brodeur, said he stayed in touch with Kovalchuk during his free-agent odyssey, but never tried to influence his decision.
"No, I didn't talk him into it," Elias said with a laugh. "I think that all the guys already know what they want to do. The decision's in their head. I texted him throughout the process just to say hi and when I heard he was coming back and that was it."
Brodeur, who has never tested the free-agent waters during his 17-season career, should have considered asking Kovalchuk for daily updates. Brodeur said for the most part he was just like everyone else, following along with the news online and waiting to see what the final decision would be.
"I was surprised about his trip to L.A. -- I don't know if it's true or not, but I was like, 'Wow, I didn't know they were still in the hunt,' " Brodeur said. "It's an exciting time for him. I knew what his feeling was, but because there was another league involved, it's a hard thing to understand, what they're really thinking about. We're happy it's over and I think our fans are tremendously pumped about this."Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozoAuthor: Dave Lozo | NHL.com Staff Writer