Ilya Kovalchuk shockingly, abruptly retires from NHL
"This is something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia," Kovalchuk said. "Though I decided to return this past season, [general manager Lou Lamoriello] was aware of my desire to go back home and have my family there with me. The most difficult thing for me is to leave the New Jersey Devils, a great organization that I have a lot of respect for, and our fans that have been great to me."
At just 30 years of age, Kovalchuk still has plenty left in the tank and was a key piece for the Devils moving forward. Since signing his $100 million deal, Kovalchuk has finished second, first, and second in points for the Devils, respectively. He racked up 99 goals over those three years, more than any other Devil during that span. During the 2011-12 season, he finished with the fifth most points and sixth most goals in the NHL. The Devils are losing arguably their best offensive player.
Kovalchuk will now return to his native Russia, where he is expected to sign with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL - the same team he played for during the NHL lockout. He hasn't officially signed just yet, but is expected to do so on Monday. Although Kovalchuk left $77 million on the table by leaving the Devils, he is still likely to earn more overseas. His deal with St. Petersburg is expected to be worth at least as much as his deal with the Devils, and could be worth significantly more.
As for the Devils, they are not simply losing one of their top players. The Devils also lost their 2014 first-round pick when initially trying to sign Kovalchuk, as the NHL deemed they were attempting to circumvent the salary cap. In addition, the cap recapture clause in the new CBA will cause the Devils to face a $250,000 cap hit through 2025, when Kovalchuk's 15-year contract would have come to an end.
The news of Kovalchuk's retirement is shocking to all NHL fans, and Devils fans in particular, who have to deal with several repercussions of their star player's decision.