Kovalchuk Heading Home

Ilya Kovalchuk has retired from the NHL so that he can head back home to Russia with his family.
Ilya Kovalchuk has retired from the NHL so that he can head back home to Russia with his family.

Star forward Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils has abruptly decided to retire from the NHL and head back home to Russia. He leaves quite a bit of money behind in terms of the contract he was under, the 15 year deal still had about $77 million left on it.

At just 30 years old, Kovalchuk could have remained a force to be reckoned with in the hockey world for years into the future, however he has decided to hang up his skates, preferring to return home instead.

The decision may come as a surprise to much of the hockey world today, however the Devils at least had a vague idea this was coming. Team General Manager Lou Lamoriello released a statement following the announcement today that makes it seem the team had knowledge this was going to happen.

“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,” Lamoriello said. “On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors.”

After being drafted with the first overall pick  of the 2001 draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, Kovalchuk became one of the league’s best goal scoring threats. During his 11 seasons with Atlanta and New Jersey, he was able to score 50 goals in two separate seasons, and during four other years logged 40 goals. Not a bad stat line.

Further evidence of his offensive impact lies in his overall career numbers. During 816 career games over his eleven seasons, he was able to account for 816 points. Those points came via 417 goals and 399 assists. As a result of his offensive prowess he was selected to three All-Star games. In 2003 he scored 41 goals, good enough to earn him Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer that year.

Ilya Kovalchuk is heading home, but he is leaving his home in New Jersey as a result. Kovalchuk explained his decision and how he felt about leaving New Jersey in his statement following announcing his retirement:

“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.”

Don Cherry gives us a different insight to the retirement. He brings up an argument that the Devils should be glad to see Kovalchuk go, because it saves the team money that he wasn’t worth given his production. “Deep down, I think [the Devils] are happy because they [save] a ton of dough,” Cherry said. “He was playing alright — never would I say he was playing bad. And he was the one Russian I didn’t mind because, remember when he chased Sean Avery in New York? I like him. But with that contract, they were expecting 40 or 50 goals a year, something like OV, eh? But they were getting 29, 30. I don’t think they were too unhappy [to see him go].”

During his rambling commentary on the retirement, Cherry also said that “Kovalchuk is just laughing all the way to the bank” as he heads back to Russia, noting the difference in taxation of the wages due to his returning to his home country.

Eastern Conference Champions two years ago, the Devils have now lost two of its biggest stars in as many years. Although Kovalchuk never won a Stanley Cup, he was the team’s best offensive threat and perhaps their best hope of winning a title this year. Zach Parise signed with Minnesota in free agency after the run through the Eastern Conference playoffs last year.

”We’re going to put the best possible team we can on the ice,” said Lamoriello, who insists that he will focus on moving the team forward rather than dwell on the loss of Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk has retired from hockey so that he can head back home to Russia, saving the Devils a lot of money but seriously hurting their shot at a title. Perhaps they can pull off some roster moves with the money they saved in order to make this roster resemble the contender it was just two years ago.

Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille

Senior Sports Editor

The Guardian Express

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