Ilya Kovalchuk is not returning to the NHL. OK, we can't actually say that with 100 percent certainty because it is actually possible for him to come back. And you never know, maybe he'll have a change of heart and he'll want to figure it out, and the legal hoops all line up perfectly, allowing the Russian superstar to jump through in one fluid motion.
It's all possible in the same way that it's possible for Colton Orr to win the Art Ross Trophy.
But no. He's not coming back. Not soon at least. This feels like common sense, but it didn't stop an insane rumor from spreading on Sunday night and Monday morning. Maybe your friend told you he heard on the 'net that Kovy was coming back. This is where it came from, and this is why it's wrong.
DEVILS are involved in discussions to bring back Ilya Kovalchuk...negotiations have begun, expect more news on this shortly #NJDevils— DINO COSTA (@REALDINOCOSTA) June 9, 2014
If you need any background on Dino Costa, this is probably enough.
But we can also use just actual NHL knowledge to debunk this rumor: Kovalchuk needs the consent of every single NHL team if he wants to come back to the NHL. He can't just come back and play for the Devils again and pretend this whole "retirement" thing never happened.
Via the New York Post, here's what NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last year regarding Kovalchuk's potential return to the league:
"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 wrote. "Once he sits out for a full calendar year, he can only come back with the Devils’ consent."
Kovalchuk would have to sit out of KHL play for a year, or the NHL's 30 teams would all have to vote in favor of his return, for him to be eligible. Kovalchuk can return without the consent of the clubs, or the Devils, in 2018-19, when he'll be removed from the league's "voluntary retired list" and will be eligible to become a free agent. He'll be 35 years old then.
But forget the legal wrangling it'd take to come back to North America: it seems incredibly far-fetched that Kovalchuk would give up the KHL life -- in his home country, playing for the league's top club, living with his family, and being handsomely compensated for it -- to come back to a league he left just one year ago. He seems very happy in Russia, and he wouldn't have left his gig with the Devils if he didn't already have a huge pull towards playing in Russia. That seems tougher to fight than the NHL's guidelines.