It's true: Ilya Kovalchuk wants to return to the NHL.
New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero confirmed with Kovalchuk's agent that the 34-year-old is indeed serious about returning to North America after spending the past four seasons in Russia's KHL, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun.
A couple of weeks ago, TSN's Bob McKenzie provided details on Kovalchuk's status, pointing out the forward is on the league's Voluntary Retirement List (VRL) but remains property of the Devils. Since he's on the VRL, the Devils can't trade his rights, making a sign-and-trade scenario the most likely solution.
Kovalchuk can't sign a contract until July 1, LeBrun adds, suggesting that "the Kovalchuk sweepstakes are on." Exciting!
TSN's BobMcKenzie adds that whatever happens, Kovalchuk is a "non-factor for (the) expansion draft," ineligible to be exposed, protected, or selected.
New Jersey's rebuilding, and surprisingly hit the jackpot by winning the NHL Draft Lottery, which means the club will be adding some top-flight offensive talent in either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier. In other words, they've got little use for Kovalchuk, even though he's coming off his most productive season in the KHL.
Kovalchuk could help a contender, though how he left the Devils will follow him for the rest of his career. After signing a 15-year, $100-million contract in 2010, Kovalchuk left for Russia with 12 years and $77 million left on the deal, retiring from the NHL at 30.
In 816 career regular-season games, Kovalchuk scored 417 goals and had 816 points.