After weeks of speculation, it sounds like things are about to get real — per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, the agent for Ilya Kovalchuk has confirmed his client wants to return to the NHL.
Devils GM Ray Shero confirmed as much, adding that Kovalchuk’s rep — longtime player agent Jay Grossman — can speak to various clubs about a potential deal to facilitate a comeback.
Kovalchuk, who just turned 34 in April, hasn’t played in North America since his shock retirement from the Devils in 2013. He left with 12 years and $77 million still remaining on his monster contract (a 15-year, $100 million extension inked back in 2010), and has spent the last four campaigns with KHL powerhouse SKA Saint Petersburg.
In Russia, Kovalchuk remained an elite player. He’s actually coming off his most productive campaign with SKA, having racked up 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games. It’s probably worth noting he was playing alongside Vadim Shipachyov, another veteran Russian that recently inked a two-year, $9 million deal with the expansion Las Vegas outfit.
As for where Kovalchuk will be next season? That could be complex. As TSN’s Bob McKenzie laid out here, the only way Kovalchuk could play somewhere other than New Jersey is if the Devils sign him first, then trade him (hence why Shero opened the door for Grossman to seek something out).
What that means is more fingers in the pie, more parties involved in negotiations and — potentially — more haggling over details than usual. It’s also worth noting that, per LeBrun, Kovalchuk can’t sign anything until July 1.
But hey, don’t let that get in the way of a compelling comeback. Given the success Alex Radulov had in Montreal this season, there are guaranteed to be more than a few interested suitors for Kovalchuk.