Ilya Kovalchuk finalized a four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League Monday, but the former New Jersey Devils star may already have designs on a return to the NHL.
The 30-year-old Kovalchuk stunned the North American hockey world Thursday when he announced his retirement from the NHL, walking away from a contract set to pay him $77 million over 12 seasons.
But according to an interview given by Kovalchuk’s sister, Ariana, to Russian outlet mk.ru on Sunday, Ilya would like to return to the NHL after he plays at least three seasons overseas. (The Google translation of Ariana’s interview can be found here; take overseas, foreign-language reports with a grain of salt.)
“Naturally, he plans to return to America and perform in the NHL. But the next three years he will play in Russia,” Ariana said in the interview (translated). “My mother and I are very happy.”
If he does wish to make an NHL comeback within the next four years, Kovalchuk must be granted permission to return to the NHL from only his former team, the Devils, but the 29 other clubs. Failing to get unanimous approval from all 30 teams, Kovalchuk would need to sit out for at least one calendar year and still need the Devils’ blessing. At that point, Kovalchuk could play for the Devils or be traded elsewhere.
However, once the forward turns 35, a second NHL life becomes more possible. Kovalchuk will be removed from the North American league's “voluntarily retired list” upon reaching his 35th birthday on April 15, 2018, and thus become an unrestricted free agent, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the New York Post.
There is still one catch, Devils beat reporter Tom Gulitti tweeted Monday. Even at age 35, the Devils could challenge Kovalchuk's coming off the VRL, and that challenge would need to be upheld by the NHL.
If Ariana's words are true, NHL fans can feel free to pencil in Kovalchuk for a sleeper pick in their 2018-19 fantasy draft.
Watch: Highlights from Kovalchuk's 2012-13 lockout stint with SKA