Shocker: Ilya Kovalchuk retires from NHL, NJ Devils in favor of Russia

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  • Ilya Kovalchuk
    Ilya Kovalchuk
    Russian professional ice hockey player

Ilya Kovalchuk, signed with the New Jersey Devils through 2025, announced his retirement from the NHL on Thursday afternoon in perhaps the most shocking moment in the history of the franchise.

From the Devils:

Statement from New Jersey Devils President/CEO/General Manager Lou Lamoriello:

“After many conversations with Ilya over the past year on his desire to retire from the National Hockey League, Ilya’s decision became official today. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors.”

Statement from Ilya Kovalchuk:

“This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia. Though I decided to return this past season, Lou 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.”

Kovalchuk played 11 seasons in the NHL, including the last four with New Jersey. He retires with career NHL totals of 417 goals and 399 assists for 816 points with 516 penalty minutes in 816 games.

He added 11 goals and 16 assists in 32 career playoff games. Kovalchuk scored 89 goals and 112 assists for 201 points in 222 games, while adding eight goals and 11 assists in 23 playoff games with the Devils. He was traded to New Jersey by Atlanta on February 4, 2010. He was Atlanta’s first choice, and the first overall selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Born April 15, 1983 in Tver, Russia, Kovalchuk represented Russia at three Olympic Winter Games, nine World Championships, one World Junior Championship and the 2004 World Cup

Kovalchuk had $77 million yet to be paid on his contract. The Devils have formally terminated that contract, ending his tenure with the team.

The assumption always was that Kovalchuk would leave for Russia during the duration of his 15-year, $100-million contract; many assumed it would around 2019, when his base salary dropped from $7 million to $4 million.

No one assumed it would be just three years into a deal that, remember, costs the Devils their first-round pick in next summer's draft due to the NHL's penalty for their initial 17-year cap circumventing contract with Kovalchuk that was voided.

We’ll have much more on this as it shakes out, but the two most immediate questions about this incredible moment: What does this say about the Devils’ finances, and how on Earth do they possibly replace the best goal-scorer on the team, and perhaps in team history?

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