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Kovalchuk Retires To Spend More Time With Russia

Suck it, New Jersey.

Suck it, New Jersey.

Today Ilya Kovalchuck, the New Jersey Devils‘ $100 million dollar man, stunned the sports world by announcing his retirement from the NHL at the age of 30. The decision puts an end to his, largely overrated, 11-year career in the league and leaves a lot of money on the table too.

The front-loaded deal would have paid Kovalchuck over $11 million a year through the 2016-17 season, $10 million for 2017-18, $7 million for 2018-19, and from there would have decreased substantially through 2024-25. Now that it’s all written out, can you really blame the guy for not wanting to be stuck in Newark for the next 13 years?

Seriously, they don’t even let you off the bus to New York in Newark for a bathroom break unless it’s specifically designated as your final destination. Given that he had a place with a cheaper cost of living to retire to, it’s less stunning that Kovalchuck peaced out on the rest that deal.

The announcement comes just three seasons after he signed a 15-year, $100 million contract in 2010. Which means Kovalchuck is walking away from approximately $77 million and, according to statements made by Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello, has planning to do so for some time now.

Lamoriella didn’t disguise his disdain for the decision reached by Kovalchuck, and he was quick to point out that there was nothing positive for the club to take away from this. He quickly descended into “Back in MY day…” rhetoric when asked if decision came as a surprise, stating: “I am never surprised by anything that happens in this game today.”

Lamoriella added: “Remember, this wasn’t a decision by the New Jersey Devils.”

Not that it was a point that needed clarification. In his official statement, Kovalchuck was quite clear about the fact that he had been considering retirement for months—it stemmed from the extra long offseason he spent in Russia, courtesy of the NHL lockout that cut the 2012-13 season in half.

Ah yes, the infamous lockout! It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving. How nice for hockey fans that they get to go through it every few years like clockwork. But I digress…

Kovalchuck said it was a difficult conclusion for him to reach, because of the “respect” he has for the organization, but maintained it was the right one for his family. Now they’ll all return to Russia and it’s expected that Kovalchuck will play for the KHL team SKA St. Petersburg, which is where he played during the lockout.

His return to Mother Russia is very conveniently timed with the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So that means Kovalchuck doesn’t have to worry about whether or not NHL will let their players participate in the first Olympics hosted by Russia since the 1980 games in Moscow.

Although, it’s unlikely the games were the primary motivation for the move by Kovalchuck. In January 2013 Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin declared that he would be participating in the Sochi Olympics regardless of what the NHL had to say about it—with the blessing of owner Ted Leonsis.

The abrupt announcement leaves the Devils in a lurch for the upcoming season (and beyond) and leaves some questions unanswered. Questions like…will they try to recover the first-round draft pick they forfeited by penning a contract for Kovalchuck that circumvented the league’s salary cap?

Something tells me they will.

Frankly though, despite what their GM had to say, this isn’t the worst news ever for the Devils. Yes it’s going to hurt them for the next year or two in terms of on-ice productivity, but Kovalchuck has given them lemons here—they won’t go to waste if lemonade can be made.

The only players in the NHL that are signed to a deal anywhere in the realm of Kovalchuck’s are his comrade Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby. Ovechkin is making more per season than Crosby, but Crosby is locked up longer than Ovi.

What’s insane is that both would’ve made less than Kovalchuck through the 2017-18 season. Ovechkin will make more over the life of a shorter contract and Crosby’s is flat-out not as good.

Kovalchuck is flat-out not as good…on the ice. He shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as those two guys—the differential in talent is that substantial. The Devils seriously overpaid for his services and they should be relieved that they aren’t on the hook for that $77 million.

It may seem bleak at the moment, but it’s always darkest before the dawn—right? Sure that’s cliché! It also happens to be true. The fact of the matter here is that Kovalchuck handed them an easy out and the Devils really dodged a bullet.

It may take awhile for fans, and the organization itself, to see things that way, and that’s only natural. They have to wade through the vast waters of bitterness and resentment before they get to the calmer waters of understanding and acceptance.

Don’t worry though Devils fans, you’ll get there…you’ll get there.

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