Ilya Kovalchuk’s situation in SKA has taken yet another turn, this time with St. Petersburg activating the veteran forward ahead of their second-round series against Dynamo Moscow.
While that may not seem like much, you’ll recall that Kovalchuk, 32, found himself making headlines during SKA’s first-round series against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl after he was benched following the series’ opening game. During that contest, Kovalchuk was responsible for a neutral zone turnover that led to Lokomotiv’s game-tying goal in a contest Yaroslavl would win in overtime. Following the game, news came that Kovalchuk had been sent back to St. Petersburg to train by himself and would miss Game Two. He was also stripped of the team’s captaincy.
What followed was four straight victories by SKA, all of which were without Kovalchuk. Before the first round was complete, there were a number of reports indicating that Kovalchuk’s playoffs were over. There was reason to wonder if Kovalchuk would ever play for SKA again.
Or at least there was until Sunday evening. Reports came that Kovalchuk would be in the lineup for Game One of SKA’s second-round series, and that’s exactly what happened. Monday night in Moscow, Kovalchuk again took the ice for SKA.
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In his first game back with the team, Kovalchuk played more than a minor role, too. Over the course of the game, which SKA won 3-2 to take a 1-0 series lead, Kovalchuk logged 15 minutes of ice time and contributed two hits but failed to find the score sheet or get a shot on goal.
It’s impossible to know what Kovalchuk’s return to the SKA lineup will mean pertaining to his future, and his contract, with the Russian club. Earlier reports said Kovalchuk wouldn’t terminate his contract with St. Petersburg before April 30 and that’s still believed to be the case. He has one season remaining on his contract, but there’s an increased likelihood that he doesn’t terminate his contract at all if he has reconciled with SKA.
Before jumping to conclusions, too, there’s no saying whether an NHL return is imminent should Kovalchuk leave SKA. He would have some hoops to jump through in order to return to the NHL, including the possibility of sitting out an entire season or waiting until April 2018 to make a return to the NHL as an unrestricted free agent.
Kovalchuk has spent each of the past three seasons with St. Petersburg since making his return to the KHL in 2013. Over those three campaigns, Kovalchuk has played in 149 games, scoring 57 goals and 144 points. During the 2014-15 post-season, Kovalchuk led SKA to a Gagarin Cup championship and was named the playoff MVP, scoring the championship winning goal for St. Petersburg.