After rumblings that Ilya Kovalchuk split from SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, the Russian forward rejoined the team for Game 1 of their second-round playoff matchup against Dynamo Moscow, putting a quick stop to the rumors that he’d be returning to the NHL.
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Kovalchuk was stripped of his captaincy from SKA and was benched for four straight games as SKA upset Lokomotiv in the first round – winning all four games without him. Reports suggested Kovalchuk and the team reached an agreement to keep him under contract until late April, but that he wouldn’t dress again in the playoffs. Rumors swirled about a potential NHL return, and what that meant for his rights which were still owned by the New Jersey Devils.
“What I’d say on Kovalchuk: There’s a lot of different rules that apply to his situation,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters in Denver last week. “It’s a complicated situation, so unless and until he wants to come back to the National Hockey League, he wants to sign a contract, I’m not going to be able to tell you definitively what rules apply and how they apply.
“What I would say is, having signed his voluntary retired list form and being on our list, that gives the Devils preferential rights to his NHL (rights).”
With Kovalchuk returning to the KHL, it seems all of the speculation regarding his contract status can be put to bed, at least for a little while. The marriage between Kovalchuk and SKA may not be perfect, but it seems they’re putting past transgressions behind them and focusing on hockey. That strategy seemed to work as SKA defeated Dynamo 3-2 to take a 1-0 playoff series lead.