Is Ilya Kovalchuk returning to the NHL? The plot thickens

Is Ilya Kovalchuk on his way to North America? Matti Raivio/AP Images

DENVER -- There are lots of rumors flying around about the future of former NHL scoring star Ilya Kovalchuk who, according to reports from Russia, has been stripped of his captaincy and benched by his Kontinental Hockey League team, SKA, during that team’s current playoff series.

In July 2013, three years into a 15-year, $100 million contract signed with the New Jersey Devils, Kovalchuk retired from the NHL to play in Russia.

Now there has been much speculation about what would happen if Kovalchuk, 32 and apparently at odds with his employers, wanted to return to the NHL.

"What I'd say on Kovalchuk: There’s a lot of different rules that apply to his situation,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

"It’s a complicated situation, so unless and until he wants to come back to the National Hockey League, he wants to sign a contract, I’m not going to be able to tell you definitively what rules apply and how they apply,” Daly told reporters in Denver at the Stadium Series game at Coors Field between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings. “What I would say is, having signed his voluntary retired list form and being on our list, that gives the Devils preferential rights to his NHL [rights]."

Asked if Kovalchuk would have to sit out a year in order to return to the NHL, Daly would not give a direct answer.

"I’m not going to opine on exactly what the rights are. [The Devils)] have preferential rights," Daly said.

According to the collective bargaining agreement, a player who returns to the NHL from retirement must get approval to do so from all 30 of the league's owners. He must also, as a player who began the season in Europe, clear waivers before he was allowed to return to the league.