There’s another ‘Kovalchuk wants NHL return’ story going around

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Several outlets have picked up a report from Finnish newspaper Iltalehti, which claims that former New Jersey forward Ilya Kovalchuk — who abruptly retired from the NHL in 2013 — is eyeing a return to North America for the 2016-17 season.

This, of course, is the latest in what’s been a series of similar reports:

— Months after Kovalchuk retired and signing with SKA St. Petersburg, his sister told a Russian news outlet there were already plans in place for an NHL return, but only after Kovalchuk played three years in Russia.

— In June of 2014, NJ.com shot down a rumor that the Devils were working on bringing Kovalchuk back to play this season, one that began with a series of tweets from former SiriusXM radio host Dino Costa.

Basically, the “when will Kovalchuk come back?” story has been around since the day he left, and seems to bubble to the surface whenever issues arise in either the KHL, or Russia in general.

More, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman

Whenever there are rumours of trouble in Russia, tweeters start asking about Ilya Kovalchuk. The general reaction is, “He will be the first guy to be taken care of. They aren’t letting go of their marquee player.”

When he left, it was the NHL’s position that until Kovalchuk turns 35, he remains New Jersey property, as he signed his retirement papers.

As for a potential Kovalchuk return — if he wants to rejoin the NHL before turning 35, he would require approval from all 30 teams or sit out of hockey entirely for a full season, then get the Devils’ permission to return.

If he waits until he’s after 35 — which would occur during the 2018-19 campaign — he could return without seeking said approval.

Kovalchuk turns 32 next month. He’s enjoying another successful campaign as SKA’s captain with 25 goals and 55 points in 54 games, putting him 12th in the KHL in scoring.