New Jersey Devils superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk has decided to walk away from the final 12 years and $77 million remaining on his contract, choosing to retire from the NHL to play for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL next season.
“This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia,” Kovalchuk in a statement on Thursday. “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.
“This goes back to the lockout, and prior to coming back, his thought process of staying in Russia was there,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a conference call Thursday. “As you know, he was here a little late [getting back after the lockout was lifted]. Then there was no conversation whatsoever throughout the year about it. Then it resurfaced and his desire was to retire from the NHL, and the only way he could do that was to sign his voluntary retirement papers, which he did.”
As a result of the 30-year-old’s retirement, the Devils will have to pay a cap restructure penalty of around $300,000 until 2024-25 — when the contract was set to expire — NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on TSN Radio. That is because the cap advantage on Kovalchuk’s contract was approximately $4 million over the first three seasons of his 15-year, $100 million deal, which was signed in 2010, according to Daly.