Ilya Kovalchuk wants to return to the NHL

Nick Kypreos and Elliotte Friedman break down the biggest stories in the NHL, focusing on the Buffalo Sabres’ search for a coach and Ilya Kovalchuk potentially coming back to the NHL.

When last we saw Ilya Kovalchuk in the NHL, he scored 11 goals and 31 points in 37 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. At the time, Kovalchuk was in just the third year of a 15-year contract he signed with the New Jersey Devils worth $6.66 million per season.

Of course, Kovalchuk retired after that NHL season so that he could return to Russia and join the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg. This season Kovalchuk scored 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games for SKA to finish second in league scoring.

And now he wants to return to the NHL. But since he retired mid-contract (a deal that still hasn’t lapsed), his rights remain with the Devils. So how would a return work?

“The New Jersey Devils own his rights, he could sign and play for them no problem,” said Elliotte Friedman on Hockey Night in Canada’s Headlines segment. “If he wants to play for somebody else, technically all the other NHL teams would have to approve it.

“But here’s the way that this I think is going to work: if he doesn’t want to play for New Jersey or if New Jersey doesn’t want him playing for them, and neither the agent nor the team is commenting on this, I think whoever gets him is going to work out either a sign and trade with New Jersey or they’re going to trade for his rights.”

Kovalchuk is now 34 years old, so he’s heading towards the end of his career and could be past his prime. However, he’s coming off a strong season in the KHL and has always been a good producer in that league. And in the NHL, he has 417 goals, 816 points and a Rocket Richard Trophy in his 816-game NHL career.

“I think there will be significant interest,” Friedman noted.

If Kovalchuk does return, he’d be following in the footsteps of Alexander Radulov, who twice has gone from the NHL to the KHL in his career. Most recently, Radulov left the Predators after a short end-of-season run with the team in 2012 and returned as a free agent to the Montreal Canadiens this season. The 30-year-old Radulov signed a one-year deal with the Habs worth $5.75 million and scored 54 points in 76 games.