NHL Rumors: Will Ilya Kovalchuk Rejoin New Jersey Devils or Stay in KHL

By Mark Donatiello

Ilya Kovalchuk is playing in at least one more KHL game, despite the lockout ending this week, in order to “stay in shape”.  He also said he wants to read over the CBA and ensure it is ratified before making plans to rejoin the New Jersey Devils. Immediately after his controversial comments, rumors swirled about Kovalchuk staying in Russia.  After all, fellow Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin is already back in the states.

Is it possible that Ilya Kovalchuk will stay in Russia, forgoing the rest of his 100-million-dollar contract and leaving the New Jersey Devils without their most talented offensive weapon?

When various NHL players fled to Russia during the latest work stoppage, the KHL agreed to honor all NHL contracts when the lockout concluded.  The transfer agreement states that  any player under contract with the NHL cannot play in the KHL.  Recently, however, the president of the KHL and, coincidentally enough, president of Ilya Kovalchuk’s SKA St. Petersburg, suggested through a translator that the KHL would challenge the legality of NHL contracts forged under the old NHL CBA.  It seems the KHL is willing to bend the terms of their transfer agreement with the NHL for a player of Ilya Kovalchuk’s caliber.

Now, if you’re one of the NHL fans that believes everything Bill Daly and the NHL feed you, I’m sorry for how confusing the lockout negotiations must have been on you.  Still, if you’re willing to believe Daly, he said recently that the KHL has confirmed their intention to honor the transfer agreement once the new CBA is ratified.  If you need a source with more credibility, Lou Lamoriello said he expects Kovalchuk back for camp and Martin Brodeur echoed Lamoriello’s thoughts.

The New Jersey Devils are in a precarious situation.  Ilya Kovalchuk’s hesitance to return to the United States is certainly not a good sign.  Kovalchuk may actually be making more money in Russia after taxes, so his exorbitant NHL contract that the lockout worked so hard to eliminate is far less alluring than it appears.  The president of Ilya Kovalchuk’s KHL team has only made the situation worse by suggesting the legality of NHL contracts could be in question.  Kovalchuk has excelled in Russia during the lockout, but by playing in additional KHL games he risks injury and gains very little.  Rumor has it Kovy has even asked to play in the KHL All-Star Game on Sunday.  Unfortunately for Devils fans, Kovy’s heart seems to be in Russia.

Still, the KHL is going to have a very difficult time challenging the legality of NHL contracts.  They could break the transfer agreement, but that seems unlikely at this point.  The KHL is not going to be an option for NHL stars that have decided to linger.

Ilya Kovalchuk may very well be the next New Jersey Devils captain.  He should be back now for the good of his NHL team.  All Kovy is doing by feeding KHL rumors is aggravating an already aggravated Devils fan base.  Kovalchuk will be a New Jersey Devil this year, but after rumors of feeling homesick were behind his poor play a few years ago, Devils fans have plenty to worry about with their star winger.


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