The 2019 - 2020 National Hockey League season was a bizarre one in ways that will likely never be replicated in our lifetimes, and perhaps for that reason it is easy to forget the many storylines that took place during that season prior to the pandemic barging its way into our lives. For fans in the city of Montreal one of the few bright spots in an underwhelming regular season for the Habs was the apparent revival of Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk had joined the Los Angeles Kings in a failed bid to make a run at the Stanley Cup and not only had he failed to achieve that goal but it was starting to look like his best days were well behind him. This led to the Kings terminating his contract midseason and things looked pretty bleak for Kovalchuk from there, but a sudden and unexpected contract offer from the Montreal Canadiens changed everything.
Kovalchuk looked like an entirely new player on the Montreal Canadiens, picking up a whopping 12 points in just his first 14 games. He also immediately appealed to the French and English speaking fans in Montreal, quickly making him a fan favorite despite him only spending a short time with the franchise. It is perhaps for this reason that after he was traded to the Washington Capitals 22 games later that Kovalchuk would not close the door on a potential return to the Habs down the line. In fact Kovalchuk's prediction about some of the team's up and coming talent, centers he could potentially play with down the line if he returned, proved to be rather impressive.
"This group of guys is special," said Kovalchuk as per Sportsnet. "They all care, they want to win, they want to be better. And all the young guys like (Nick) Suzuki … and (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and (Cale) Fleury — they sent them down, but they’re all ready to play. This team has a bright future, and if I can be part of it that would be really good."
Suzuki and Kotkaniemi obviously went on to have break out performances in the postseason and with Kovalchuk once again an unrestricted free agent many have wondered about a potential return to the Habs for the Russian star. Although there have been rumblings about that return for several weeks now, Habs insider Eric Engels recently poured cold water all over that possibility.
Engels recently stated that he would be "shocked" if Kovalchuk returned to the Canadiens despite his connection with the team and the city, although he did admit that there is one potential scenario where it could happen. Engels believes that if the Habs suffer injuries as they gear up for the upcoming regular season he could see a world in which they reach out to the Habs, but admittedly that would be a longshot at best. Certainly no fans in Montreal will be hoping to see their players get injured, regardless of how much they like Kovalchuk.