Could Kovalchuk return to the NHL in 2018?

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Once the shock of his “retirement” to the KHL wore off, more than a few people in the hockey world were saddened to think that Ilya Kovalchuk’s days in the NHL are over. That might not be the case, however.

His sister Arina told Sovsport.ru (in Russian) that Kovalchuk wants to return to America after three years. The New York Post’s Larry Brooks points out that Kovalchuk would need the New Jersey Devils’ approval to return to the NHL by then – which would be 2016 – but that rule would be lifted entirely when the 30-year-old star turns to 35.

Ilya Kovalchuk will be removed from the “voluntary retired list” upon reaching his 35th birthday on April 15, 2018, and thereby would become an unrestricted free agent if the winger were to pursue a return to the NHL for the 2018-19 season.

Such a scenario (not to mention the 2016 possibility his sister mentioned) would generate quite a bit of controversy and prompt plenty of questions.

One of the key ones: how much would a team trust Kovalchuk to sign a 35+ contract, considering how his “first retirement” went? In a hypothetical scenario where he’d retire out of the blue again, that franchise would be stuck with whatever cap hit he’d carry regardless.

Of course, there’s the very real possibility that his NHL days are over, for real. After all, it doesn’t get much better than finishing with exactly a point-per-game in your career (816 in 816).

Still, it could make for a fascinating story to follow, especially if he gets to play against the Devils.

(H/T to Puck Daddy.)