Earlier this week, SKA coach Sergei Zubov sparked controversy when he scratched superstar team captain Ilya Kovalchuk for Game 2 of their KHL Gagarin Cup playoff series against Lokomotiv.
They lost Game 1 in overtime. Kovalchuk played like hot garbage, failing to score and skating to a minus-2. Still, sitting him for the second game was stunner: Especially when the coach went as far as saying that Kovalchuk would no longer train with the team.
Furthering the explanation, SovSport reported that Kovalchuk had "repeated violations of the [training] regime" and "conflicts with the assistant head coach Vladimir Fedosov." Which does not sound captainly.
SKA won Game 2 without Kovalchuk, 3-2, in which they nearly blew a 3-goal lead. Speculation was that Kovalchuk’s scratch would be a one-time shock to the system. But Sports Express reports on Wednesday that Kovalchuk will not play in SKA’s home games (Games 3 on Thursday, and Game 4 on Sunday) and that he has been stripped off the captaincy by the team.
The Russian news site claims that Kovalchuk’s future with the team “is still under question.”
Kovalchuk hasn’t been uniformly terrible this season. He had 16 goals and 33 assists in 50 games. But that pace slowed to a crawl in 2016: 4 goals and 10 assists in 15 games, including a streak from Dec. 26 through Jan. 17 when he failed to score a goal. It seems that things started deteriorating between the star and his coaches during that stretch.
OK, so ... Kovalchuk to the NHL, right?!
Please keep in mind that that per the CBA, and due to Kovalchuk’s retirement, he basically has three options for an NHL return.
1. Kovalchuk would need approval from all 30 NHL teams, due to his voluntary retirement, to return to the NHL right this second.
2. If Kovalchuk were to sit out of hockey for a calendar year, he would only need the New Jersey Devils’ consent to return to the NHL, as he’s on the voluntary retired list and last played for that club. Which means he could sign with the Devils. Or, most likely, they'd trade his rights away.
3. Kovalchuk plays internationally until he turns 35 (April 15, 2018), and then is dropped from the voluntary retired list and becomes an unrestricted free agent.
As Igor Eronko wrote, Kovalchuk’s return to the NHL before he’s 35 is “practically impossible.”
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