Ilya Kovalchuk wants back in the NHL.
According to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero said he has spoken with Kovalchuk’s agent Jay Grossman who said his client would like to return to North America. Kovalchuk technically retired from the NHL in 2013 to return to Russia where he signed a contract with SKA St. Petersburg.
At that time he was Devils’ property, having signed a 15-year, $100 million contract with the club before the 2010-11 season.
According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the 34-year-old Kovalchuk can come to terms with a new team and then the Devils could trade him but only after signing him first. Per McKenzie, Kovalchuk cannot come off the NHL’s Voluntary Retirement List unless he signs with New Jersey, so a sign and trade is really the only option.
Kovalchuk also cannot technically sign a deal until July 1. He also isn’t eligible to be exposed by New Jersey for the expansion draft. McKenzie notes that Kovalchuk likely doesn’t want to be a part of a rebuilding process with the Devils so a return to New Jersey may not be the likeliest scenario.
NJ.com pointed out that Shero and the Devils still plan on keeping all their options open with Kovalchuk.
New Jersey won the first overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, which could help speed a return to prominence for the group and could make the team more enticing for Kovalchuk. The Devils have not made the playoffs since the 2011-12 when Kovalchuk helped lead them to the Stanley Cup Final. Last year they finished with 70 points, which ranked 27th in the NHL.
Kovalchuk was one of the NHL’s top talents during his 816 game career there from 2001-02 through 2012-13. He scored 417 goals and notched 816 points in 816 games and also won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2003-04 as a 20-year-old. He scored 52 goals in a season twice and tallied 41 goals-or-more six times in 11 seasons.
Last year in the KHL, Kovalchuk scored 32 goals and notched 78 points in helping St. Petersburg to the Gagarin Cup.
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