A dispute between Russian hockey star Ilya Kovalchuk and his KHL team SKA Saint Petersburg could result in a return to the NHL for the former New Jersey Devil.
On Monday after one playoff game, SKA announced that Kovalchuk was "removed from the squad and has been placed on an individual training programme." The only reason given was a coach's decision (his coach is former NHL player Sergei Zubov).
It was thought the move was just a one-game scratch due to poor performance, but on Wednesday Russian paper Sports-Express reported that Kovalchuk "will not play in the third and fourth matches of the series SKA with the 'Locomotive' that will take place on Thursday and Saturday in St. Petersburg." (Translated by Google translate).
Now according to one report, Kovalchuk is trying to force his way back into the lineup.
Kovalchuk has told SKA that if he's not on roster in two days time he's terminating his contract and heading to North America
— Aivis Kalniņš (@A_Kalnins) February 25, 2016
Kovalchuk, 32, played 11 seasons in the NHL from 2001 to 2013. He returned to Russia in 2013 with 12 years still remaining on his deal with New Jersey (not a typo).
But if SKA decides to call his bluff, returning to the NHL will not be quite as simple as packing his bags and finding a new contract.
The process for Kovalchuk's possible NHL return is a bit murky. In order to go to the KHL, he "retired" in July of 2013. If he hopes to return to the NHL as a free agent, it would require he sit out a year and get the approval of all 30 NHL teams. Alternatively, he could sign a new deal with the Devils. New Jersey has essentially been rebuilding ever since he left for the KHL.
Though there were plenty who were displeased with Kovalchuk's departure, convincing New Jersey to re-sign him to presumably a relatively cheap deal would seem to be the more likely scenario if Kovalchuk is serious about returning.