The intrigue surrounding the future of Ilya Kovalchuk continues.
The coveted free agent will meet with his most recent employer, SKA St. Petersburg, Thursday to discuss the potential for a new contract, according to Russian outlet TASS.
The left-wing sniper’s previous contract with SKA expired on May 30, and the player has expressed interest in returning to the National Hockey League for the 2017-18 season.
“We have the desire to keep Ilya. He is our hockey player, a patriot and loves to play for the national team,” said SKA president Gennady Timchenko (translated). “We will talk today, and we might have some news later.”
The New Jersey Devils own Kovalchuk’s NHL rights this upcoming season. If he chooses to leave the KHL, he must sign with the Devils, who can then trade him to any one of the other 30 clubs.
Kovalchuk’s option to remain in the KHL allows him a take-it-or-leave-it mind state.
“I can’t go out calling teams because that’s a waste of my time,” Devils GM Ray Shero told NHL.com at the Combine. “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.”
The 34-year-old exploded for 32 goals and 78 points in 60 KHL games and hoisted the Gagarin Cup in 2016-17. He would present a tempting addition to many NHL teams’ top six.
Kovalchuk cannot officially sign an NHL contract until July 1.
If a sign-and-trade cannot be consummated this off-season, Kovalchuk could wait one more year and return to the NHL as a 35-year-old in 2018. At that point, the Devils lose all rights and the player will be an unrestricted free agent.
Kovalchuk has been linked in rumours to multiple NHL teams, including the Blue Jackets, Islanders, Panthers and Golden Knights, but the NHL’s decision to not participate in the 2018 Olympics could play a factor in his decision.
“I think there’s interest,” Blue Jackets president John Davidson told Prime Time Sports Tuesday. “I don’t know where it’s going to go.
“I actually had a discussion with Jay Grossman, his agent, and I told him we’ll be in discussions and Jarmo [Kekalainen] our general manager will be making the decisions.”