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Ilya Kovalchuk to cease being KHL pawn, return to New Jersey Devils

Greg Wyshynski
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Getting Ilya Kovalchuk into your locker room isn’t always easy. Sometimes the contract he’s signed gets spiked by the National Hockey League; and sometimes he’s committed to playing in an all-star game on the other side of the planet during the start of training camp.

Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk will appear in the Kontinental Hockey League All-Star Game this weekend, and then head back to the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings respectively for the start of a truncated camp before the 48-game NHL season. Datsyuk’s plans were always a given; Kovalchuk’s were a bit more mysterious given the rumors that he intended to stay in Russia this season.

Via Igor Eronko of Sports.ru:

GM Alexei Kasatonov says the statement regarding Ilya Kovalchuk's future will be released on Saturday at KHL All-Star game

Via Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov:

According to SKA coach, yesterday's game was most likely the last in the KHL for Kovalchuk, meaning he will leave for NJ as early as Monday.

So the strange ordeal is over for the Devils, who sat by and watched their star investment flirt with insubordination. Will it cost Kovalchuk with the fans? That remains to be seen, although any animosity could quickly fade with a stellar offensive season to help pick up Zach Parise’s slack.

Will it cost Kovalchuk with his teammates?

That the thing Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record wanted to know, and asked the Devils:

“He’s within his rights to do what he’s doing right now,” goaltender Martin Brodeur said. “Regardless, if they say he’s going to play in the all-star game there and he misses a day or two, it’s not a big deal. I know people will make it a big deal, but he’s been playing a lot of hockey.”

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” center Adam Henrique said. “He’s been there most of the season and he probably wants to show his appreciation for the fans.”

One Devil did think it would be a big deal, however, if Kovalchuk doesn’t report for training camp Sunday with the rest of his Devils’ teammates. “It is,” longtime Devils forward Patrik Elias said. “We’re all supposed to report on Sunday, right?”

Keep in mind the Devils need a captain and Elias once was one.

As for the KHL ... hey, kudos, comrades. You showed your teams and your fans that you're willing to stand up to the NHL. You got one of the best players in the world to admit he'd rather be playing in Russia. And you made Gary Bettman sweat out KHL questions during the NHL's end of lockout presser.

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