When Ilya Kovalchuk opted to retire from the NHL this summer so he could return to Russia and play for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, it raised the question of whether his departure might signal the beginning of a trend. But so far there’s been no indication that other prominent Russian players will forsake the NHL in order to head back home.
Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin were both the subject of rumors that they would consider leaving for the KHL. But both Datsyuk and Malkin signed contract extensions this offseason, committing to their NHL squads through the 2016-17 and 2021-22 seasons, respectively.
While no other top-tier Russian players appear ready to walk away from their NHL careers, that doesn’t stop the speculation and the KHL’s attempt to lure players home.
Last week, Dynamo Moscow’s general director Andrey Safranov said he would explore the possibility of trying to bring Capitals star winger Alex Ovechkin back to Russia. Our friends over at Russian Machine translated Safranov’s comments from the original Russian news report.
“Ovechkin has a current contract with the Capitals. Can we try to pull him out? We’ll talk, we’ll look at each other and will have some result,” Safranov said as translated by RMNB. “Right now all Russian national team players want to come back to their homeland. KHL shows its force and credibility. And finances are important too. Taking taxes in account, playing in Russia has become way more attractive for players.”
Ovechkin has eight years and $79 million remaining on his current contract with the Capitals and there’s no reason to believe he wants to end his NHL career in order to return to Russia and the KHL. During the lockout, Ovechkin was one of several Russian players to float the threat that they would not return to the NHL if the new CBA was undesirable but those comments appeared to be more of a negotiating ploy than a legitimate possibility.
It’s also important to note that the Devils opted not to fight Kovalchuk’s departure. New Jersey could have tolled the winger’s contract and prevented him from playing in another league. Many other teams, the Capitals included, would likely try to block such a move rather than allow it as the Devils did.
In short, while this likely won’t be the last time there’s talk of whether Ovechkin would consider returning to Russia there’s no indication that this is anything more than some wishful thinking by Safranov.