Ilya Kovalchuk July 2013Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk shocked the New Jersey Devils and the rest of the NHL yesterday when he announced he was retiring from the team at the age of 30.

It comes as such a surprise since he still has 12 years to go on his current 15-year contract that’s worth $101 million. Nobody really expected him to hang around until the deal expires in 2025, but he’s skipping town with $77 million still left on the table.

Apparently money isn’t everything to Kovalchuk, though, but he isn’t retiring from pro hockey as he plans on heading back to his homeland of Russia to continue his career in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

Kovalchuk said he’s been thinking about going home for quite some time now and it was a decision he came to when he went back to Russia last year during the NHL lockout. He added that it’s difficult to leave a great organization like the Devils, but he has made up his mind.

Lou Lamoriello, the general manager of the Devils, managed to talk Kovalchuk into returning to the team in January when the lockout ended, but he didn’t have any luck this time around.

The GM said Kovalchuk didn’t speak about going back to Russia during the season, but recently let him know about his plans. The Devils will certainly feel the departure of Kovalchuk, especially after losing free agent forward Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild last summer.

Kovalchuk has spent the last 11 seasons in the NHL, but has been with the Devils for just three-and-a-half of them. He has played in 876 regular season games and scored 417 goals and 399 assists for 816 points. He posted 11 goals and 20 assists last season.

Kovalchuk has also played in 32 career playoff games with 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points. It’s believed Kovalchuk will join SKA St. Petersburg or some other team when he returns to Russia. He played with SKA during the lockout.

New Jersey fans are also understandably disappointed since the team traded forwards Patrice Cormier and Niclas Bergfors to the Atlanta Thrashers (Winnipeg Jets) for Kovalchuk along with giving up defenseman Johnny Oduya and their first and second round draft choices in 2010.

At the end of the 2009-10 season Kovalchuk was eligible for unrestricted free agency. The Devils then signed him to a $102 million contract for 17 years. However, the NHL pulled the plug on that deal since it circumvented the league’s salary cap.

The Devils were fined  $3 million and had a first and third draft pick taken away from them. New Jersey decided to give their first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.

Lamoriello certainly gave up a lot for Kovalchuk, but the player can’t be blamed for poor management practices regarding the illegal contract. As well as losing Kovalchuk this summer, the Devils also saw last year’s top goal scorer David Clarkson leave the team and join the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent.


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