Ilya Kovalchuk is taking his annual poke at a return to the National Hockey League, the circuit he retired from suddenly in July 2013, when he skipped out on the New Jersey Devils and the $77 million remaining on his North American contract.
“We will see. Everything is possible. Why couldn’t I return to NHL?” said Kovalchuk, via multiple Russian reports. “I’ll have all options open that can benefit my career.”
Kovalchuk’s contract with KHL-leading SKA St. Petersburg will come to an end this spring, at which point he becomes a free agent on April 30. He’ll be 34 years old.
Since Pavel Datsyuk joined SKA this season, Kovalchuk’s game has soared. He ranks second league-wide in both goals (16) and points (36) and is a plus-22 through 28 games. He’s on pace for his best statistical season since returning to Russia to become the KHL’s highest-paid player.
So, why couldn’t he pull an Alexander Radulov and return to the NHL?
Well, Kovalchuk can return to the NHL without any restrictions as a UFA when he’s 35. But that would mean sitting out a full season, growing 365 days older and slower.
Making the move in the 2017 off-season, however, will be tricky.
All NHL teams would need to unanimously approve such a decision because Kovalchuk signed his voluntary retirement papers when he left the Devils.
KHL beat man Aivis Kalniņs reported last week that SKA opened contract extension talks with Kovalchuk and another ex-NHLer, Viktor Tikhonov.
Kovalchuk is not close to inking his extension, however. His recent comments on an NHL return could simply be a negotiating ploy.
Either way, Kovalchuk’s career is headed to another crossroads — and he’s scoring often enough that he will get paid, again.