Ilya Kovalchuk staying in the KHL? Rumors are flying as NHL lockout ends

CSKA and SKA are both in Kontinental Hockey League action on Tuesday. Pavel Datsyuk had played for CSKA during the NHL lockout, but won’t appear in their game, apparently on his way back to the Detroit Red Wings. Ilya Kovalchuk had played for SKA during the NHL lockout and … is in the lineup.

Oh my.

The KHL has been making a full-court press to keep any and all NHL stars that have played in Russia during the lockout. (Hey, All-Star Game gotta eat.) Unless they're destined to play for the Islanders, they're all returning to the NHL.

Kovalchuk is, obviously, a marquee attraction that the League attempted to court when he was a free agent two years ago. You know, before he signed with the New Jersey Devils for 15 years and $100 million.

Is Kovalchuk spurning the Devils and staying in the KHL? SKA GM Alexei Kasatonov – a former Devils defenseman, mind you – offered a ‘no comment’ to Pavel Lysenkov of SovSport.

The rumors of Kovalchuk staying reached the desk of Bob McKenzie of TSN, who said a Devils source told him they “haven’t heard (Kovy) isn’t coming back.” Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record said GM Lou Lamoriello offered the same assessment yesterday.

Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov throws some more water on this fire:

“I think he is just staying to play another game or so. Not staying for a while. Andrei Markov, I am told, is also still in Russia and may play in the next game for his team. I wouldn’t say this is serious.

“Also, the KHL pretty much conceded that none of the NHLers will play in its ASG in a few days. That includes Kovalchuk. Although I heard that the KHL wanted to ask the NHL to allow their players to participate.”

We’re sure the NHL would be down with that. Oh wait it completely wouldn’t be, that’s right.

Bottom line: Although the temptation’s there, there’s no reason to expect Kovalchuk will remain in the land of fuzzy hats and incredible vodka, and will get back to the land of jean jackets and $2 rail drinks in Seaside Heights. Which is great news for the New Jersey Devils. Hey, did you hear Parise left?

UPDATE: From Slava Malamud of Sport Express: "Kovalchuk says, 'I will need to read the new agreement' before he decides what to do next."