NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — He just can’t seem to make up his mind.
Ilya Kovalchuk, who once walked away from a massive, long-term contract so that he could go home to Russia, now apparently is considering a return to North America in 2016-17, according to a report in a Finnish newspaper.
Citing family concerns, the superstar forward — who had 816 points in 816 career games spanning 12 seasons in the NHL — retired in 2013, just three years into a 15-year, $100 million contract with the New Jersey Devils.
As a result of the lockout that delayed the start of the 2012-13 NHL season, Kovalchuk, the former No. 1 overall pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 draft, signed a temporary contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and went on to produce 42 points in 36 games. He eventually rejoined the Devils after the lockout was resolved, amassing 31 points in 37 games.
But a seed was apparently planted. Kovalchuk retired from the NHL in July of 2013 and eventually re-signed with SKA St. Petersburg, with whom he has registered 137 points in 135 games, including 55 in 54 games this season.
But now, perhaps due to the Russian economy struggling, Kovalchuk is again thinking about the NHL, where he was once one of the league’s most bankable stars, amassing 417 goals, including six seasons with at least 40 goals.
According to SportsNet, the NHL’s position is Kovalchuk, who will turn 32 in April, would remain the Devils’ property until the age of 35 and would require the approval of all 30 teams to return, or he could choose to sit out a full year and then get the Devils’ approval to return. If he decides to wait until he’s 35, which wouldn’t be the case until during the 2018-19 season, he could return without needing approval and be a free agent.
After finishing 26th out of 30 teams in goals scored last season and sitting 27th this season, it’s hard to imagine the Devils not wanting Kovalchuk back as soon as humanly possible. The Devils, who are 11 points out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 10 games to play, have not made the playoffs since losing in the Stanley Cup Final during the 2011-12 season.
The Devils have not missed the playoffs three straight seasons since 1982-83 through 1984-85, their first three seasons in New Jersey after moving from Colorado.