Ilya Kovalchuk still interested in returning to the NHL

The Hockey Night In Canada panel discuss where Ilya Kovalchuk may land if return to the NHL happens, possible offside changes, and the latest trade rumours.

Any hopes of former New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk returning to the NHL are still alive and well, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

“There were reports this week that Ilya Kovalchuk would stay in the KHL and not come back to North America,” Friedman said during Saturday night’s broadcast. “Word out of the Scouting Combine is that is not the case, that Kovalchuk is still very much interested in playing in the NHL next season.”

It’s a bit of a complicated path for Kovalchuk—and one that runs through New Jersey. The Devils still hold his NHL rights, which means they could either sign the 34-year-old if he opts to return to New Jersey, or conduct a sign-and-trade. Neither option can be done before July 1, but both will require full cooperation from both parties.

Devils general manager Ray Shero told NHL.com on Thursday that “Kovalchuk kind of drives the bus on this in terms of talking to teams or where he could want to play.”

“I can’t go out calling teams because that’s a waste of my time,” Shero said. “He’s going to tell [us] where he wants to play, and in the end, if that does work out and it’s not the Devils, then I’ve got to see if that makes sense for us to do that.”

“I won’t be surprised if some of the interest comes from people who know him—maybe like a Peter DeBoer of San Jose, Martin Brodeur in St. Louis, possibly even a Lou Lamoriello in Toronto,” Friedman said on Saturday.

DeBoer was Kovalchuk’s coach in New Jersey for two seasons while Brodeur was his teammate there. Lamoriello, of course, was the man who brought Kovalchuk to New Jersey via a blockbuster trade in February 2010.

“It’s a complex deal because of New Jersey and getting him signed,” explained Friedman, “but the word is that teams are saying Kovalchuk still wants to come to North America.”

Kovalchuk signed a 15-year, $100-million deal with the Devils in 2010, but announced his retirement three years later, stating a desire to return home to Russia. Since then, he has played four seasons with the KHL’s St. Petersburg SKA where he has registered a combined 89 goals and 222 points 209 games.