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Ilya Kovalchuk would like to stay in Russia, but has that pesky NHL contract

Getty ImagesNew Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk will play in the KHL All-Star Game this weekend along with Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings. Datsyuk will then fly back to rejoin his Wings teammates. Kovalchuk is expected to join the Devils as well … even if he doesn't really want to, apparently.

Rumors have been swirling that Kovalchuk wouldn’t come back to the NHL this season, as the Russian star was bitter about the lockout and distrustful of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice has some new comments from Kovalchuk regarding his time with the KHL and whether he’ll be back with the Devils:

“I want to stay in St. Petersburg but I have contractual obligations in the NHL, which will be hard to break,” Kovalchuk told Sport-Express in Russia, according to the sports daily’s U.S. correspondent, Slava Malamud.

Malamud later clarified that Kovalchuk was speaking about remaining with SKA St. Petersburg for the remainder of this season and then returning to the Devils in the fall. “Right now, I can’t imagine how (my staying in the KHL) can be arranged… But I don’t know anything yet,” Kovalchuk said.

So there you go. Ilya Kovalchuk would like to stay away from the NHL for this season, but expects he’d come back for the 82-game 2013-14 season. Which means he’s … pretty much in line with a lot of NHL fans, come to think of it.

More from Gulitti:

If anything, these quotes demonstrate Kovalchuk’s intention to honor his NHL contract and return to the Devils. There’s clearly pressure on him to remain in Russia and maybe he feels a little torn by that. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that Kovalchuk doesn’t want to come back to New Jersey. but leaving behind a team and teammates he’s played with all season isn’t easy.

Nor is leaving a league that clearly sees Kovalchuk as a Russian star it could convince to stay.

So Kovalchuk should be back for the Devils, who need him vitally. No one can question is heart on the ice; or at least no one that watched the playoffs last season. But when it comes to the NHL vs. the KHL, we’re starting to get a sense of where his heart is – at least this season.

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