It’s once again time to talk about Ilya Kovalchuk returning to the NHL. This time there’s some actual substance to the story.

Now that he’s celebrated his 35th birthday, Kovalchuk has been officially removed from the league’s voluntary retired player list. That’s a significant development as he’s now an unrestricted free agent and can start negotiating with any NHL team before the free agency window opens on July 1.

Kovalchuk can talk and agree to terms with a team now, but he’ll have to wait to officially sign until July 1.

Prior to turning 35, Kovalchuk’s rights remained under the control of the New Jersey Devils. Had he wanted to return and sign with a different team, all 31 NHL teams would have had to agree on the decision – something that was clearly never going to happen. Now that he’s turned 35, Kovalchuk is no longer under New Jersey control and can start his NHL comeback with any franchise.

To date, most of the rumors have pointed at Kovalchuk returning and signing with the New York Rangers. Some outlets have even reported that a deal is already in place. However, according to (and thanks to Google Translate), Kovalchuk has stated that he hasn’t even spoken with any teams yet. We’ll let you decide whether or not that’s a truthful answer or an answer given so that there’s no speculation on whether he broke any rules.

So, what can a 35-year-old Kovalchuk bring to the table? Theoretically quite a bit considering his back-to-back 32-goal seasons in the KHL in 2016-17 and 2017-18. He hasn’t skated against NHL competition since the 2012-13 season, but there’s a realistic hope that he can provide an offensive spark to the team who is willing to pay.

About David Rogers

Editor for The Comeback and Contributing Editor for Awful Announcing. Lover of hockey, soccer and all things pop culture.