Ilya Kovalchuk officially returned to the KHL on Sunday when he signed a one-year contract to play for St. Petersburg SKA next season, ending the chances of him returning to the NHL in 2017.
He told the team’s website that one of the main factors in his decision to return to Russia for one more year was participation in the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang , South Korea.
“One of the main factors was the upcoming Olympic Games,” said Kovalchuk. “In 2018, only players who play in European championships and the KHL can compete there. It was important to stay with SKA, because I have only played here in the KHL. I have a lot of warmth for the club and our fans.”
There is no doubt that the Olympics were a factor in Kovalchuk’s decision, but if that were the only reason he probably would have re-signed in Russia far sooner than he actually did without the flirtation of coming back to the NHL. Devils general manager Ray Shero told Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski last week that he was never offered anything for Kovalchuk’s rights, meaning things never really got serious with another team trying to bring him back over to the NHL.
Kovalchuk left the NHL after the 2012-13 season to play in the KHL. He has been playing for SKA ever since and has been one of the most dominant players in the league. He scored 32 goals and recorded 46 assists in 60 games this past season.