Ilya Kovalchuk will not play this season in the NHL and instead remain in the Kontinental Hockey League, his agent said Tuesday.
The forward reportedly wanted to return to the NHL. The New Jersey Devils hold his rights, so to do so Kovalchuk would have had to sign and play with New Jersey, or sign and then be traded to another team.
The New York Post said, "In end, it was Kovalchuk's decision to return after [the Devils] made attempts to make trades. Just did not work out."
Devils general manager Ray Shero said Saturday he would not trade Kovalchuk "for pennies on the dollar," but was willing to make a fair deal.
"I don't want to be an impediment for him getting back in the League," Shero told Northjersey.com. "My intent is not to keep him out of the League."
Agent Jay Grossman confirmed Kovalchuk will play this season in the KHL. By waiting until next season to possibly play in the NHL, Kovalchuk, who turns 35 on April 15, 2018, will become an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team.
Kovalchuk voluntarily retired from the NHL on July 11, 2013, with 12 years and $77 million remaining on a 15-year, $100 million contract he signed with New Jersey on Sept. 3, 2010. He signed a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL in his native Russia on July 15, 2013.
When Kovalchuk left the NHL, his contract was terminated and he was placed on the voluntary retirement list. That allowed the Devils to maintain his NHL rights until he turns 35. Prior to then, if Kovalchuk wanted to sign with another team he would have needed approval from all 31 NHL teams.
Kovalchuk, selected by the Atlanta Thrashers with the No. 1 pick of the 2001 NHL Draft, had 816 points (417 goals, 399 assists) in 816 games with the Thrashers and Devils.