Ilya Kovalchuk Re-Signs with SKA St. Petersburg

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ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - APRIL 18, 2017: SKA St Petersburg's Ilya Kovalchuk holds the KHL Gagarin Cup after a friendly match with participation of SKA St Petersburg's current roster, management and coaching staff as part of an event to celebrate HC SKA St Petersburg's victory in the 2016/2017 Kontinental Hockey League Championship, at Ice Palace. Alexander Demianchuk/TASS (Photo by Alexander DemianchukTASS via Getty Images)

Ilya Kovalchuk isn’t leaving the motherland just yet. After countless rumors that he was finally going to return to the NHL, he’s staying with the St. Petersburg SKA. The team signed him to a one-year deal, announced on Sunday.

Ilya Kovalchuk Signs with SKA St. Petersburg

The Drama Behind the Star

Kovalchuk likely insisted on a one-year deal. The highly-touted Russian becomes an unrestricted free agent in the NHL next season. This will give him the freedom of choosing where he wants to play, without the New Jersey Devils involvement. Previously, his rights were held by New Jersey. After playing three years of his 15-year contract with the Devils, Kovalchuk decided to retire from the NHL and leave for the KHL. Since then, rumors about his returning to North America have run rampant.

They weren’t ever more prevalent than this year though. Supposedly, New Jersey had Kovalchuk on the trading block. It seemed a lot of teams were interested, and Kovalchuk could’ve helped a lot of teams. Per Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski, though, the Devils never received any offers for Kovalchuk. Wyshynski quoted Devils GM Ray Shero saying, “I never turned down a first-round pick. I never turned down a seventh-round pick. I never turned down anything. Why? It’s really simple: There was nothing to turn down.” It’s not hard to believe either. Kovalchuk is free for any team to talk to and potentially sign in the 2018 offseason. It’s easier to wait one season than to send away a lot of valuable assets.

Kovalchuk’s Overlooked Skill

Kovalchuk is an undervalued forward, though. His stubbornness and the drama around him has drowned out his career stats. Kovalchuk has had 816 points in 816 career games. A point per game after so many games is very impressive. He’s arguably already an NHL legend, but a return could be the icing on the cake.

Kovalchuk’s biggest problem right now is age. The star right winger is 34 and isn’t going to see anywhere close to the 15 year deal he saw the last time he played. Still, he’s showed no signs of slowing down. Kovalchuk had his highest scoring year in the KHL last season. In 60 games he had 78 points. He also had nine in 18 playoff games. He’ll be a threat in the league next season if he can bring that kind of strength to the NHL.

What to Expect Next Year

As for what to expect his contract to look like next year, it’ll likely only be short term. Considering his age, teams are much less inclined to sign him for more than three years. He’ll still get his asking price of between $6 or $7 million though. He’s also likely to go to a team where he will be the guaranteed star.

Despite all these technicalities, Kovalchuk is very likely to come back to the NHL next year. He’ll hopefully sign a contract that will let him reach his 1,000th game, and hopefully his 1,000th point. That’d be the best way to top off what’s been a very impressive, and very dramatic, NHL career for Ilya Kovalchuk.

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