Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk retires from NHL
NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) — Superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk stunned the New Jersey Devils by retiring from the NHL on Thursday to return home to Russia.
In leaving, the 30-year-old Kovalchuk walked from $77 million left on the 15-year contract that he signed with New Jersey in 2010, including guaranteed annual salaries of at least $11 million over the next four seasons.
The Devils said Kovalchuk alerted general manager and president Lou Lamoriello this year that he wanted to return home with his family after 11 seasons in the NHL.
“Gentlemen, this wasn’t a decision made by the New Jersey Devils,” a testy Lamoriello said at the end of a conference call held less than an hour after the retirement was announced.
Lamoriello refused to disclose anything about his conversations with Kovalchuk relating to the retirement. He also did not clarify whether the Russian planned to play in the KHL in Russia next season or whether the Devils would retain his rights if he reconsidered his retirement, deferring to the NHL. He said Kovalchuk’s decision was not related to anything physical.
Kovalchuk had back problems in 2011-12 and missed 11 games this past season with a shoulder injury.
“This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia,” said Kovalchuk, the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft, said in a statement. “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.”
Kovalchuk was to earn $11.3 million in each of the next two seasons and $56 million over the next five years. Lamoriello said Kovalchuk didn’t receive a signing bonus, so the team didn’t have to seek recovering any money.
Lamoriello would not say whether the retirement soured him on Kovalchuk’s four seasons with the club, but the impression was clearly that he was miffed.
Acquired in a trade with Atlanta, Kovalchuk’s best season with the Devils was 2011-12 when he had 37 goals. He had 11 goals in 37 games last season.
Overall, Kovalchuk scored 417 goals and 399 assists in 816 NHL games. His best NHL seasons were in 2005-06 and 2007-08 when he scored a career-high 52 goals. He had three other 40-goal seasons
Kovalchuk has represented Russia at three Winter Olympics, nine world championships, one world junior championship and the 2004 World Cup. He played in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg during the recent lockout and was their captain. He participated in the KHL All-Star game before returning to New Jersey for the lockout-shortened 48-game regular season, a campaign where the Devils missed the playoffs.