Captain Ilya Kovalchuk has been removed from SKA St. Petersburg in the first round of the Kontinental Hockey League playoffs due to poor performance, according to assistant coach Maxim Sokolov.
The former NHL star has been placed on an individual training program ahead of SKA’s second Round 1 game versus Lokomotiv Tuesday and will not be practising with the team.
#SKA coaching staff layed Ilya Kovalchuk off team practices due to poor performance
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) February 22, 2016
My understanding of the Kovalchuk situation is it is a one-game benching (for now) by coach Sergei Zubov.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 22, 2016
Kovalchuk still has one more season remaining on his contract with the Russian club. There has been constant speculation that the forward would like to return to North America to chase a Stanley Cup once his four-year pact in the KHL expires.
The 32-year-old helped lead SKA to its first Gagarin Cup in 2015 and was named MVP of the playoffs but has taken a step back this season. He finished 12th overall in league scoring (16 goals, 33 assists) and was a minus player for the first time in his KHL career.
As for a potential return to North America, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly addressed the issue when Kovalchuk retired in 2013.
“It would require unanimous consent at any point at which the player tries to return to the League without having been out of professional hockey [anywhere in the world] for a full calendar year,” Daly told the New York Post. “Once he sits out for a full calendar year, he can only come back with the Devils’ consent.”