The latest on Phil Kessel and more rumors claiming Ilya Kovalchuk could one day return to the NHL. 

Is this Kessel’s final season with the Leafs?

NBC SPORTS: Jason Brough cites Darren Dreger telling TSN 1050 radio yesterday he firmly believes Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel will be traded in the off-season. Brough believes unless the Leafs win the draft lottery and select Eric Otters star Connor McDavid, it’s difficult to envision Kessel returning with the Leafs after this season. Even if they land McDavid, Brough suggests it still might be best to trade Kessel and team captain Dion Phaneuf this summer.

ESPN.COM: Craig Custance recently suggested the Leafs could keep Kessel if they win the draft lottery and select McDavid, as the Leafs star would finally have a true first-line center to play alongside.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think Kessel’s future rest on three key factors. First, if he still wants to return with the Leafs. Second, if there’s a decent return to be had should they decide to move him anyway (especially if he’s willing to expand his list of preferred trade destinations), Third, if the Leafs win the draft lottery. Should the latter happen, it only makes sense to keep Kessel for next season and see if he and McDavid can build some offensive chemistry. 

Could Ilya Kovalchuk attempt an NHL return in the summer of 2016?

Could Ilya Kovalchuk attempt an NHL return in the summer of 2016?

 Kovalchuk could one day return to NHL.

SPORTSNET: Mike Johnston cited a report from a Finnish news source claiming former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk has informed his KHL team (SKA St. Petersburg) of his desire to return to the NHL for the 2016-17 season. Kovalchuk’s KHL contract expires on April 30, 2017. Kovalchuk officially retired from the NHL two years ago from the New Jersey Devils. Johnston reports if Kovalchuk decides to return to the NHL he’ll need the approval from all 30 NHL teams. Otherwise, he’ll have to wait until the 2018-19 season, when he’s 35, to return as an unrestricted free agent as long as he gets consent from the Devils.

TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports it won’t be easy because Kovalchuk signed his voluntary retirement papers. LeBrun claims he’ll either have to sit out an entire season before returning as a UFA, or sign with an NHL team and hope the other 29 clubs approve his return. LeBrun notes a provision in the CBA which says if he returns to his last NHL team (the Devils) he might not need the approval of the other 29 teams, though that’s up to league interpretation.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: We haven’t heard anything yet from Kovalchuk as to the validity of this recent report. He’s denied previous rumors claiming he could return to the NHL in the near future. It seems apparent we won’t see a Kovalchuk return for next season, but it could be something worth watching in the summer of 2016 at the earliest.