Many NHL players that had played in Europe and more specifically the KHL during the NHL lockout have started to return to North America in preparation of the start of the NHL regular season after the lockout unofficially ended over the past weekend.
Even superstar Russians like Alexander Ovechkin, Evegni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk have left the motherland and returned to their respective NHL teams, yet one Russian remains behind and the media is running with it.
New Jersey Devils franchise forward, Ilya Kovalchuk has yet to return to New Jersey. The man they call “Kovy” is still playing in KHL games and was even the only NHL’er named to the KHL All-Star game, which is set to take place on January 13th in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
According to Pavel Lysenkov of Sovietsky Sport, who spoke with KHL vice-president of hockey operations Vladimir Shalaev, the answer is very simple. Lysenkov quotes Shalaev via Twitter as saying,
“The CBA will not be signed until Sunday. So Kovalchuk (has) no employment relationship with the NHL, and he is going to Chelyabinsk. And I don’t understand why Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk are not going to Chelyabinsk. It’s wonderful possibility to say Thanks to Russian fans.”
So, as you can see according to the KHL, the NHL CBA hasn’t been ratified and made official, therefore Kovalchuk has no business relationship with the NHL until the ratification process is actually completed, not just started and the new CBA is put into place. The process is expected to be completed by this weekend, with NHL training camps opening on Sunday.
It’s my personal opinion that a lot of this could be getting blown way out of proportion, however with Lubomir Visnovsky allegedly wanting to stay in the KHL for “personal reasons” it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Kovalchuk feels the same. I mean, rumors have always swirled around Kovy and wanting to play in Russia.
However, I would be shocked if Kovalchuk didn’t return to the Devils once the CBA is ratified and made official. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello agrees with me and says he isn’t worried about Kovalchuk. Lamoriello even went as far as to tell the Associated Press, “I have no knowledge of anything other than him coming back (to the NHL).”
Stay tuned, could get interesting for the casual hockey fan, or could get very disappointing if you are a New Jersey Devils fan. With the loss of Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild, the Devils can ill afford to lose a player of Kovalchuk’s caliber and goal scoring capability.