The way I heard it, if he wants to come back to the NHL, his NJ contract is still in effect
Hmm I don't know. Either way if the Devils are going to use this to try to somehow get out of paying the 1st round pick penalty and keeping Kovalchuk on their team in the future...it's going to get messy.
How would it be a CBA circumvention? If he wants to sit home and not get paid he can, but NJ can toll the contract so he still has 10 years left.
Sitting at home and retiring are two different things in the NHL's eyes. For example, Tim Thomas didn't retire, he just sat out a year. Kovalchuk is officially stating that he's retiring and (presumably) filing the paperwork for same. I believe that places certain restrictions on how quickly you can unretire, where you can play, etc.
But what I'm saying is, if the Devils are going to argue that they shouldn't have to give up a 1st because Kovalchuk retired, and then turn around and take him back one year later...I would call that a flagrant circumvention, definitely.