Agent says Ilya Kovalchuk to stay in KHL next season

Ilya Kovalchuk has decided to remain in the Kontinental Hockey League next season rather than pursue a return to the NHL, agent Jay Grossman told multiple media outlets.

Kovalchuk retired from the NHL in July 2013 -- just three years into his 15-year, $100 million contract with the New Jersey Devils -- to play in his native Russia. But Grossman told Devils general manager Ray Shero in May that his client was open to an NHL return.

Kovalchuk is on the NHL's voluntary retirement list, meaning he could only sign with the Devils. According to the collective bargaining agreement, a player who returns from retirement must get approval to do so from all 30 of the league's owners.

Kovalchuk, 34, could join another NHL team only through a sign-and-trade deal.According to the New York Post, which first reported news of Kovalchuk's decision to return to Russia for another season, the Devils were unsuccessful in trying to find a trade partner to ship Kovalchuk to another team.

Shero said in a conference call this weekend thathe didn't "want to be an impediment for [Kovalchuk] getting back in the league" but also said he had no plans to trade him for "pennies on the dollar."

He will be an unrestricted free agent next season, however, and would be free to sign with any NHL team if he decided to return to North America to play.

It is not the first time that speculation has been raised about Kovalchuk's possible return to the NHL. In 2016, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly admitted there were "a lot of different rules that apply to his situation" and wouldn't give a direct answer when asked if Kovalchuk would have to sit out a year prior to returning.

Kovalchuk scored 417 goals and registered 816 points in 816 career games with the Devils and Atlanta Thrashers. He was the first Russian player selected with the No. 1 overall pick when he was taken by Atlanta in 2001. He was acquired by the Devils in February 2010, then signed his revised massive contract seven months later.

In 245 career KHL games, Kovalchuk has 107 goals -- including 32 for SKA St. Petersburg last season -- and 157 assists.

Kovalchuk has represented Russia at four Winter Olympic Games, nine world championships, one world junior championship and the 2004 World Cup.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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