It appears Ilya Kovalchuk could be one step closer to returning to the NHL. Just one day after SKA St. Petersburg reportedly stripped Kovalchuk of his captaincy, KHL writer Aivis Kalnins reports Kovalchuk is threatening to leave the team.
Earlier in the week, Kovalchuk was benched following a poor performance in Game 1 of St. Petersburg’s playoff series against Lokomotiv. The team reportedly also informed Kovalchuk he would be a scratch in Game 3 and Game 4 of the series as well. The 32-year-old led SKA to its first Gagarin Cup in 2015 and took home playoff MVP honours but his performance dipped this season. He finished 12th in league scoring (16 goals, 33 assists) but had a minus rating for the first time in his KHL career. Kovalchuk has told SKA that if he isn’t on the roster within two days, he is terminating his contract and will be packing his bags for North America.
This isn’t the first time Kovalchuk’s potential return has been discussed. Last year it was reported that Kovalchuk had expressed to his KHL club a desire to return to the NHL for the 2016-17 season. According to the KHL website, Kovalchuk’s contract with SKA expires on April 30, 2017.
Kovalchuk shocked the hockey world in July 2013 when he left the New Jersey Devils. In order to facilitate a move back to Russia, the winger had to officially retire from the NHL and in doing so left $77 million on the table just three years into the 15-year, $100-million contract he signed with the Devils in 2010.
If Kovalchuk does choose to return to the NHL in 2016, the move would need to be approved by all 30 NHL teams because Kovalchuk signed his voluntary retirement papers when he left the NHL.
Kovalchuk is by no means, at least from his NHL days, a lazy player. He was never a locker room distraction, so perhaps there’s more to this than meets the eye. I assume someone like the Canadiens or the Bruins will inquire with the New Jersey Devils about acquiring the rights to Kovalchuk.
Though it is highly unlikely he makes an NHL return, assuming not all 30 teams will agree to allow his return. Alternatively he could sit out and wait a year after his contract with the KHL expires, but that wouldn’t make sense for his professional hockey career.
At the end of the day, Kovalchuk won’t be suiting up for any NHL team next season. I assume he will make a return during the KHL playoffs, score a couple goals, and it’s all forgotten…