In case you missed it, New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL today. At the ripe old age of 30, one of the league’s best snipers left about $77M on the table and is apparently heading to play in Russia for the balance of his career.
The news comes as a shock to almost all observers and seems to be a decision out of left field. He did make some mention of not wanting to return after the lockout, but he did come back and people thought that was that.
The decision couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Devils, who have watched the big-name free agents sign lucrative contracts, not knowing that $6+M in cap space was about to become available, not to mention the $13M cash outlay that Kovalchuk was due this season. It does save the Devils some money, and for a team struggling financially that is a good factor, but after losing Zach Parise and David Clarkson in consecutive summers, and with Martin Brodeur almost ready to ride off into the sunset, there isn’t much left in New Jersey to put a face to.
Kovalchuk didn’t have the track record in New Jersey, but they had expected to have the star player in the fold for years. He is in his prime, and would rather play at home in the KHL than for the Devils.
Obviously the Devils gain financially, and they probably could contest him playing in the KHL if they wanted to, but that didn’t work for the Predators and their fight with Igor Radulov.
The move is a double-blow to the Devils. Without Kovalchuk, or getting something back for him, the Devils will not be very good. Worse than that, they do not have a first round pick next year because they will be be forced to forfeit that pick because of the circumvention they were found to have committed in signing, coincidentally, Ilya Kovalchuk.
Its already setting up to be an interesting year.