NHL Rumors: Ilya Kovalchuk Planning NHL Comeback

After a four-year absence from the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk is ready to make his long-awaited return. Rumors around Kovalchuk's attempted comeback have been floating around the NHL for the last several weeks and they can now be confirmed. Kovalchuk played his last NHL game in 2013 for the New Jersey Devils and has since moved on to play in the KHL for the SKA St. Petersburg. At the age of 34, Kovalchuk faces a difficult path if he wishes to play for a team in the NHL again in the upcoming season. Ilya Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, has informed the Devils' general manager Ray Shero that his client has expressed interest in returning to the league for the upcoming 2017-2018 season.

Many options are on the table for Shero and the Devil's organization regarding Kovalchuk and his request to return to the league. Under today's collective bargaining agreement, any player who wishes to be reinstated to the NHL who is currently retired must seek approval from all 31 NHL teams. If the Devils are feeling bitter for him leaving them just three years into his 15-year $100 million contract, they can deny him from reentering the league altogether.

However, what seems to make more sense is for Shero to pull off a sign and trade while they can still get value for Kovalchuk. Chris Nichols of Fanrag Sports quoted Pierre LeBrun in his article regarding the most recent news on Kovalchuk and what LeBrun thought the future held for the former NHL All-Star.

"I think the likelihood here is him going to a team that's closer to winning, which is not an insult to the Devils. I mean listen, Ray Shero knows where his rebuild is right now and I think he's made some pretty significant steps so far with it. But Kovalchuk, at 34, what makes the most sense for everyone?"
Ray Shero Announcing the New Jersey Devils Pick at the 2015 NHL Draft [Image by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images]

Kovalchuk cannot return to the NHL unless he first signs with the team he retired from the NHL, meaning he must agree to return to the Devils' organization and hope another team has interest in acquiring him. However, if Kovalchuk wishes to skip the reinstatement process through the Devils' front office, he can sit out another year and become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2017-2018 season. The only problem is that many teams will be cautious signing a 35-year-old veteran who has been out of the league for five years at that point. Chris Ryan of NJ wrote about the recent buzz surrounding Ilya Kovalchuk and what the front office's approach might be.

"Shero and the Devils plan on keeping all options open while Kovalchuk attempts to return after he retired from the NHL following the 2012-13 season after playing just three seasons of a 15-year, $100 million deal in New Jersey."
With all options still on the table, it will be interesting to see how Shero handles this situation once the NHL season comes to an end. The Devils won the NHL Draft Lottery less than two weeks ago and now own the number one overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft. The team is several years away from contending for anything so holding on to Kovalchuk at this point would not make much sense for their franchise. What may work out in their favor is to ask around with teams who are ready to win now and inquire about some of their young talent that may be available. Building a young core around their top selection and what they could get for Kovalchuk's rights may help get their rebuild off in the right direction.

Ilya Kovalchuk was the first Russian-born player selected first overall in an NHL Draft when the Atlanta Thrashers selected him in the 2001 NHL Draft. During his first stint in the NHL from 2001-2013, Kovalchuk scored 417 goals and tallied 816 points. Even at the age of 34, he is still considered one of the top scorers around the world. No decision can be made until July 1, making this summer's free agency a must watch.

[Featured Image by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images]