New Jersey Devils’ superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk announced yesterday that he’s retiring from the NHL to go home to his family in Russia. Multiple sources report that Kovalchuk will play for a team in the Russian Hockey League, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
While I think it’s his right to go to his family if he wants, I really think that Kovalchuk backstabbed his organization in this move. Kovalchuk was three years into a fifteen year (fifteen year!) deal with the Devils, and the remaining money in the contract was $77 million. Because of the size of the contract, the Devils were penalized by having to forfeit their first round draft pick of next year. Because of how much money Kovalchuk was making, they had to let go of their former captain Zach Parise last year to free agency, and forward David Clarkson this year to free agency. The Devils weren’t able to make a splash in free agency because of how much money went to Kovalchuk; they didn’t have enough money for the players they’d want. If Kovalchuk wanted to spend time with his family, he should have thought about that when he signed the enormous contract. At the very least he should have informed the Devils’ organization of his decision before free agency frenzy so they could spend as they pleased, rather than save money over salary cap fears. He did neither, and as a result cost his team a large part of their core players. Ilya Kovalchuk was supposed to be a cornerstone of the New Jersey Devils’ franchise; instead, he ended up costing his team some of their most valuable assets.
Kovalchuk’s contract has been voided, and the Devils will now lose $250 000 for the next seven years. That much money really is nothing in the NHL, so the one good thing out of this ordeal is that a lot of cap space has been cleared up for the Devils. They have a solid General Manager, I’m sure he’ll spend it wisely and get his team back into contending form soon.
You can’t help but feel sorry for the Devils right now. They’re always been a great team, but in the last two years they lost their former Captain Parise, a solid winger in Clarkson, the Stanley Cup Final, their first round draft pick of next year, and now their supposed superstar Kovalchuk. Almost all these losses are because of Kovalchuk. While the Devils will suffer, rumor has it that Kovalchuk will sign a multi-year contract in the KHL soon, worth around $20 million a year (A YEAR). When it’s put into perspective that way, I really think Kovalchuk should be banned from the NHL. He threw away a Hall of Fame career and a great reputation by backstabbing the organization to whom he was supposed to show unconditional loyalty. After actions like that, he really has no place in the National Hockey League.
Kovalchuk was a great player in the NHL (a spot in the Hall of Fame would definitely not have been out of question), but his actions in this ordeal are simply unforgivable. I’m not sure why the Devils let him walk when they could have taken him to court, but I suspect they remained classy and permitted him to go home to his family. Whatever the case, I hope the NHL makes a statement and does not allow Kovalchuk back. He has undoubtedly become Public Enemy Number 1 in New Jersey, and it’s not a title that is undeserved. The New Jersey Devils will certainly bounce back, but how soon is anyone’s guess.