UPDATE: Friday, January 11, at 2:15 p.m E.T by Michael Cahill
According to Pavel Lysenkov of the Russian publication Sovietsky Sport, Kovalchuk has already made travel arrangements back to the states.
15th Jan Ilya Kovalchuk will fly back to U.S. and play for NJ.— Pavel Lysenkov (@plysenkov) January 11, 2013
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UPDATE: Friday, January 11, at 12:00 p.m E.T by Michael Cahill
According to Yahoo Sports, Kovalchuk has likely played his last game for the KHL and will return to the devils.
From Greg Wyshynski:
Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk will appear in the Kontinental Hockey League All-Star Game this weekend, and then head back to the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings respectively for the start of a truncated camp before the 48-game NHL season.
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New Jersey Devils star forward Ilya Kovalchuk is reportedly considering staying in Russia to play professional hockey instead of returning to the NHL now that the lockout is over, according to Slava Malamud of Russia’s Sport-Express:
Kovalchuk says, 'I will need to read the new agreement' before he decides what to do next. So there... #NJDevils— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) January 8, 2013
SKA brass, which includes people from Putin's inner circle, is quite friendly with Kovalchuk and has never hidden its desire to keep him.— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) January 8, 2013
In my personal opinion, it's more posturing. But it's certainly possible SKA is trying to figure something out.— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) January 8, 2013
UPDATE: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 9:40 a.m. ET by Donald Wood
While the NHL is drawing closer to an official ratification of the collective bargaining agreement, New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk continues to flirt with staying in Russia and playing in the KHL All-Star game this Sunday, according to Devils’ insider Tom Gulitti:
Pavel Lysenkov of Sovietsky Sport spoke with KHL vice president Vladimir Shalaev, who explained why Kovalchuk is still scheduled to play in the game.
“The CBA will not be signed until Sunday,” Shalaev told Lysenkov. “So Kovalchuk (has) no employment relationship with the NHL, and he is going to Chelyabinsk. ...We are disappointed that all the other NHL stars were quick to go to North America. ... Will Kovalchuk play in the KHL till the end of this season? Do not hurry up. Wait till Sunday…”
This will be an interesting game of chicken between the NHL and the KHL with serious international hockey implications if Kovalchuk were to breach his contract by continuing to play in Russia.
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The mass exodus of players from the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia back to North America in preparation for the start of the NHL’s shortened season is almost complete, but there is still a chance that a star of Kovalchuk’s magnitude would breach his contract in order to stay in his home country.
With Kovalchuk’s front-loaded contract being exactly what the NHL was talking about eliminating in the new collective bargaining agreement (h/t Pierre LeBrun), there are serious questions about how the Devils’ franchise would treat the Russian superstar.
Kovalchuk’s contract is a financial strap on the team and coupled with the no-movement clause in the deal, New Jersey could look at the sniper as more of a burden than an asset.
The Russian star would be treated like a king in his home country, but as Malamud said, this is likely all just posturing.
There is an agreement between the NHL and the KHL that says the leagues will honor each other’s contracts, and allowing Kovalchuk to continue to play in the KHL would be a breach of that deal.
If the KHL broke that rule, they could be looking at sanctions from the IIHF that "likely lead to the NHL saying its players can’t participate in the Olympics,” according to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post.
We’ll keep you updated as the story continues to develop.