Devils' Kovalchuk retires from NHL - 07-11-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

To put it mildly, this is .... stunning

Citing family concerns, Devils all-star forward Ilya Kovalchuk has announced his retirement from the NHL.

Kovalchuk is stepping away from a 15-year contract which still had 12 years remaining. Kovalchuk, who sign the contract in the summer of 2010, was entering the "big-money" years of the contract. He was scheduled to receive at least $11.3 million over the past four seasons. The contract, which for the NHL's purposes, was voided, had a cap hit of $6,666,667. The Devils will still to count $250,000 versus the salary cap every season until 2024-25.

In 37 games last season, Kovlachuk, 30, scored 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists). The first overall pick in the 2001 draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, Kovalchuk spent parts of 11 seasons in the NHL. In 816 career games, Kovalchuk scored 816 points (417 goals, 399 assists).

The Devils originally signed Kovalchuk to a 17-year contract worth $102 million but that deal as rejected by the NHL after an independent arbitrator ruled the contract was an attempt to circumvent the salary cap. As a result, the Devils were fined $3 million and had to give up a third-round pick in 2011 and a first-rounder in 2014.

A native of Kalinin, Russia, Kovalchuk is expected to join SKA St. Petersburg in Russia's KHL. He played for that team during the NHL's lockout last season.

-EN Says: Wow. Just wow.

In the summer of 2010, the Devils did everything they could to retain Kovalchuk who they acquired at the trade deadline from Atlanta for a handful of prospects. After cutting a big check for Kovalchuk, the Devils painted themselves into a financial corner which ultimately didnt' allow them to re-sign former captain Zach Parise who joined the Wild as a free agent in 2012.

As nice as it was to have a dazzling offensive weapon, this was a contract which in many ways hurt the Devils. At one point, they literally could not dress an entire lineup. During a 3-1 loss to the Penguins Oct. 11, 2010, the Devils could only dress 15 skaters due to injuries and a lack of salary cap space as a result of Kovalchuk's contract.

With questions already circulating about the Devils' financial situation, shedding themselves of this enormous deal could be a blessing.

Kovalchuk will likely return to Russia and resume his career there and make a lot more money (or save more with fewer taxes more accurately). The benefit of doing it in front of his family in and his own culture seems like it was too much to pass up.

That said, this is an extremely selfish decision by Kovalchuk. Considering everything the Devils lost in order to acquire and keep him, Kovalchuk is showing little consideration for the franchise. The fact he did this nearly a week after the free agency signing period began doesn't help the Devils either. If they had known this earlier, the Devils could have pursued some of the better free agents available.

The Penguins won't miss Kovalchuk. In 46 career games, he ripped them up for 53 points.

Kovalchuk had a lot of moments against the Penguins but none were quite as infamous as what occurred during Sidney Crosby's rookie season during a 6-4 Thrashers win, Jan. 6, 2006. Feuding with Kovalchuk for much of the game, Crosby took a penalty against Kovaclhuk in the second period. On the ensuing power play, Kovalchuk scored a goal then pointed at Crosby in the penalty box:

After the game, Kovalchuk said, "He took a stupid penalty. He's an 18-year-old kid and he's got to learn he can't play like this."

Later in his career, Kovaclhuk seemd to mature. In 2009, Kovalchuk helped settle a dispute between fellow Russians Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals.

Ultimately, the big losers in this are NHL fans. Kovalchuk was a special talent. Watching him warm-up was special. There was something different to how Kovalchuk skated or handled the puck compared to most NHLers. The NHL is lesser league without Kovalchuk.

(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images and Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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