Report: Kovalchuk to play in KHL next season

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Ilya Kovalchuk’s long-rumored NHL return has been put on ice.

Per the New York Post, Kovalchuk has opted to play in the KHL next season. The news comes after weeks of speculation about him returning to North America, with a number of interested suitors — including the Rangers and Blue Jackets — being bandied about.

Kovalchuk’s NHL rights are held by the Devils and, for him to return, New Jersey GM Ray Shero would’ve needed to orchestrate a trade. The Post reports Shero made several attempts to move Kovalchuk, but that it “just did not work out.”

There are two points worth mentioning here. One is that, by waiting another year, Kovalchuk will become a free agent next July. That would allow him to sign wherever he chooses — though he’ll be 35 at that point, and five seasons removed from NHL competition.

The other point? The Olympics.

Staying in the KHL would, conceivably, allow Kovalchuk to represent Russia at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. Back in April, Russian hockey federation chairman Arkady Rotenberg said his group would try to keep KHL players from leaving for North America and bring NHL free agents back this summer, with the goal of preparing for and participating in the Olympics.

Kovalchuk has represented Russia in each of the last four Olympics, helping the country capture bronze in 2002.