It appears Ilya Kovalchuk could be one step closer to returning to the NHL.
Just one day after SKA St. Petersburg reportedly stripped Kovalchuk of his captaincy, KHL writer Aivis Kalnins reports Kovalchuk is threatening to leave the team.
Earlier in the week, Kovalchuk was benched following a poor performance in Game 1 of St. Petersburg’s playoff series against Lokomotiv. The team reportedly also informed Kovalchuk he would be a scratch in Game 3 and Game 4 of the series as well. The 32-year-old led SKA to its first Gagarin Cup in 2015 and took home playoff MVP honours but his performance dipped this season. He finished 12th in league scoring (16 goals, 33 assists) but had a minus rating for the first time in his KHL career.
This isn’t the first time Kovalchuk’s potential return to North America has been discussed. Last year it was reported that Kovalchuk had expressed to his KHL club a desire to return to the NHL for the 2016-17 season. According to the KHL website, Kovalchuk’s contract with SKA expires on April 30, 2017.
Kovalchuk shocked the hockey world in July 2013 when he left the New Jersey Devils. In order to facilitate a move back to Russia, the winger had to officially retire from the NHL and in doing so left $77 million on the table just three years into the 15-year, $100-million contract he signed with the Devils in 2010.
If Kovalchuk does choose to return to the NHL in 2016, the move would need to be approved by all 30 NHL teams because Kovalchuk signed his voluntary retirement papers when he left the NHL.
Kovalchuk was taken first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 NHL Draft. In 816 career NHL games he has 417 goals and 816 points. He ranks 18th in NHL history averaging .511 goals per game. Only Steven Stamkos (.547) and countryman Alex Ovechkin (.629) average more goals per game among active NHLers.