Tuesday March 24th, 2015

Off The Draw

Is Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk really coming back?

Rumors suggesting as much began circulating on Monday after a source told Finland’s Iltalehti that the KHL star has had discussions with SKA management about returning to the NHL for the 2016–17 season. The report suggests that the Russian league’s ongoing financial issues have fueled the discussion.

That makes sense. Rumors are swirling that the circuit may shed teams ahead of next season and the ones that remain may have trouble meeting their contractual obligations. All of which means that the 15 million euros ($16.36 million U.S.) Kovalchuk reportedly is owed for each of the next two years might not be within the means of the SKA organization or its sponsors.

Whether he wants another crack at the Stanley Cup or not, you can see why he might be interested in mending some North American fences.

Of course, it’s all speculation at this point, and will remain that way until we hear from Kovalchuk. But it could happen.

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The question is: How?

There was a sense yesterday that Kovalchuk’s potential return would require the approval of all 30 NHL teams, based on section 8.3 of the league’s by-laws:

A player whose name has been entered on the Voluntarily Retired List shall not be removed from that list within one calendar year of such entry or within one calendar year from his cessation of playing hockey for any team in any professional league in North America, or on a professional or amateur team outside of North America, whichever is later, without the unanimous consent of all Member Clubs.

Essentially, Kovalchuk would have to play out the final two years of his KHL contract and then wait another year to be eligible for reinstatement. The problem with that is he’ll be 33 at the end of his current deal, so sitting out an additional season just to grease his return to the NHL at 34 doesn’t make sense professionally or financially.

That said, the likelihood of getting all 30 teams to grant him an early exemption seems distant.

That, however, might not be the end of things because the league’s by-laws appear to leave some wiggle room.

Here’s what what the by-laws say in Section 8.4:

Except as provided in Section 8.7 of this By-Law [which deals with professional players seeking reinstatement as amateurs], the Club on whose Voluntarily Retired List a player’s name has been registered may transfer his name back on its Reserve List at any time after the expiry of one year from the date of registration on the Voluntarily Retired List by filing any currently valid contract, option, or try-out.

That appears to be fairly straightforward, if entirely contradictory to 8.2, doesn’t it? A player who rethinks his retirement only needs to wait a year before signing a new deal and returning to action. And since Kovalchuk signed his retirement papers on July 11, 2013, more than 18 months ago, it appears as though he could sign a new contract with the Devils, his previous NHL team, and be eligible for immediate reinstatement.

So it seems that he could return to New Jersey whenever he wanted, but could only become an unrestricted free agent after the waiting period or with the approval of all 30 teams.

He might not want to hold his breath for that.

No doubt there are hard feelings within the Devils organization, and elsewhere around the league, over the way his departure went down. No one likes a quitter, and quit is exactly what Kovalchuk did to New Jersey, leaving his teammates in the lurch at a time when his skill set could not be replaced. And the fact that his return is being discussed now, when the KHL’s finances are crumbling, smacks of financial, rather than competitive, self-interest. That’ll rub some folks the wrong way, too.

But here’s the thing: Kovalchuk is a marvelous talent, a player uniquely gifted to create offense at a time when the NHL needs it most. The league is better when he’s involved. For the good of the game then, it would be worth setting aside any old grudges if he chooses to return.

Here’s hoping he finds his way back.

The numbers game

Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford is now in some elite company. He’s only the third goaltender in franchise history with four seasons of at least 30 wins, joining Hall of Famers Tony Esposito (eight from 1969–70 through ’79–80) and Glenn Hall (four from ’61–62 through ’65–66).

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• ​The red hot Senators have grabbed points in 16 of 17 games (with 15 wins) for the first time since 2007, when they made a run to the Stanley Cup finals. Rookie sensation Andrew (Hamburglar) Hammond is now the first goalie to earn points in each of his first 15 career NHL starts since Patrick Lalime went 14-0-2 for Pittsburgh in 1996–97.

• Riding workhorse goalie Devan Dubnyk, who has started the last 31 games, surging Minnesota has set franchise single-season marks for consecutive road wins (nine) and points in away games (44). Only two other active keepers have won nine or more consecutive decisions in enemy arenas: Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (10-0-0) in 2010–11 and the Canadiens’ Carey Price (10-0-0) this season (Dec. 23 to Feb. 26).

Hot links

• The Maple Leafs may have some of the most loyal fans in sports, but it appears that they’ve finally reached their limit with this underperforming team.

• Montreal’s Max Pacioretty has teamed up with a noted hamburger chain to produce some mouthwatering fare and tweak Bruins fans in the process.

• Our nation's prayers have been answered. Ryan Kesler is back with another episode of Between Two Zambonis.

• Here is where it all went wrong this season for the Flyers.

• Need one more reason to love Carey Price? Check out this video of a meeting of the Canadiens’ goalie and a young boy from his small hometown of Anahim Lake, B.C. Pure greatness.

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