Things have gone from bad to worse for Ilya Kovalchuk in the Kontinental Hockey League. SKA St. Petersburg coach Sergei Zubov benched Kovalchuk for Tuesday’s playoff game against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. After being benched on Tuesday, SKA beat Lokomotiv 3-2 to tie the series 1-1. Reports out of Russia Wednesday morning by Sport-Express stated Ilya Kovalchuk stripped of SKA’s captaincy and will not play Games 3 or 4 vs Lokomotiv.
#SKA coaching staff layed Ilya Kovalchuk off team practices due to poor performance
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) February 22, 2016
Kovalchuk led SKA St. Petersburg to a Gagarin Cup championship last season. He also scored the championship-winning goal and was named MVP of the playoffs. He has certainly taken a step back this season. In 51 games played with SKA this season and has earned 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists).
Due to the fact that Kovalchuk has been benched, it has paved the way for fans and hockey analysts to start talking about a potential for Kovalchuk to return to the NHL. If Kovalchuk were to return to the NHL he would have to get approval from all 30 NHL GMs. The New Jersey Devils hold hold his rights with 12 years and $77 million remaining on a 15-year, $100-million deal.
Kovalchuk is a star in the KHL but doesn’t put up the numbers that he used to when he played in North America. He has never finished higher than 12th in league scoring. He has helped Russia to a silver medal at the 2015 World Championship but wasn’t a standout player for his national team.
When Kovalchuk retired from the NHL in 2013, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had this to say about a potential Kovalchuk return.
“It would require unanimous consent at any point at which the player tries to return to the League without having been out of professional hockey [anywhere in the world] for a full calendar year,” Daly told the New York Post. “Once he sits out for a full calendar year, he can only come back with the Devils’ consent.”
Most NHL fans would welcome Kovalchuk back into the league with open arms. He has one year left with his KHL club. Throughout his time with St. Petersburg there has been constant speculation about him potentially returning to the NHL after his time with SKA. Only time will tell what will happen with the Russian superstar.