As far as bombshells go in the NHL, this one is near the top of the list.
Ilya Kovalchuk is retiring from the NHL after 11 seasons. At the age of 30 he leaves the New Jersey Devils, walking away from 12 more years and $77 million of a 15-year contract he signed with the team back in 2010. A general manager is left with decisions and a fanbase is left with its collective jaw on the floor.
While his days skating the arenas of North America appear to be over, Kovalchuk isn’t hanging up his skates quite yet. It’s back to the motherland for this Russian Sniper.
Kovalchuk made a few headlines back in January when, after the NHL lockout ended, he elected to delay his return in favor of playing in the Kontinental Hockey League’s All-Star game. During the work stoppage Kovalchuk played for SKA St. Petersburg, where he was the Captain.
When he made the decision to play in the All-Star game instead of practicing with his Devils teammates many saw it as a gesture towards his Russian fans and little else. Few expected the desertion it foreshadowed. Now a team in New Jersey has lost its best player.
Lou Lamoriello has $6.67 of extra salary cap space once Kovalchuk’s retirement papers go through. That is the silver lining. But this silver isn’t shiny. It comes at a time when most of the top free agents are signed. A guy like Vincent Lecavlier could have been somewhat of a replacement for Kovalchuk when he was bought out by the Lightning. But he was featured in a Philadelphia Flyers press conference two days ago. If this money is to be well spent, it will have to be done so in the future.
In the present, the Devils now have serious problems in the offensive department. In back to back summers they have lost Zach Parise and Kovalchuk, their two most talented players. The recent defector is among the most dynamic physical players in the game today.
Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe are nice additions. Cory Schneider is Martin Brodeur’s successor. And the team retained Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias and Marek Zidlicky. These moves were adding up to make it a great offseason in New Jersey.
But today, after their best player left the NHL in his prime, the New Jersey Devils got significantly worse.