Tag: Ilya Kovalchuk

Ilya Kovalchuk

PHT’s top 13 of ’13: Kovalchuk retires, returns to KHL


Ilya Kovalchuk was supposed to be a Devil for the rest of his career. He was one of the team’s best forwards and poised to stay in New Jersey for the duration of his 15-year deal.

But in 2013, the plan changed. After a lockout-shortened campaign that saw him deal with injury and finish second on the team in points, he called it “probably my worst season,” then stunned the hockey world by retiring from the NHL in June.

Kovalchuk’s retirement didn’t mean he was walking away from the game itself. Rather, he was bailing on the Devils to go play back home in the KHL.

He forfeited the remainder of his $100 million contract to play for the team he suited up for during the lockout – SKA St. Petersburg. Kovalchuk’s mother said his time with SKA during the lockout inspired him to find a way to return, which he did in dramatic fashion.

Of course, he had to make sure the Devils would allow him to go. And asking the team to be OK with parting ways had to be some kind of awkward, especially after all they went through to get him. When the Devils were negotiating with Kovalchuk during the summer of 2010, they were busted for circumventing the salary cap on their first agreed-upon deal. Their punishment? Forfeiting a future first-round pick, a punishment that will come into effect at the 2014 NHL Draft.

So, what was the Devils’ motivation to part ways with Kovalchuk?

For one, they were in a financial bind as the salary cap was reduced to $64.3 million following the lockout-shortened season. They were also dealing with cash-flow issues, as then-owner Jeff Vanderbeek was seeking to sell the team. Having Kovalchuk’s monster contract on the books made both those situations more difficult.

source: Getty ImagesLamoriello agreed to let Kovalchuk go and with it controversy erupted over the Devils finding a way (again) to escape the clutches of the upper limit of the salary cap. Months later, Vanderbeek sold the team to a group led by Joshua Harris.

With Kovalchuk off the books and on his way to Russia, the Devils suddenly had money to spend — and did so by signing Jaromir Jagr and Damien Brunner to free-agent deals.

Jagr alone has helped make people forget about Kovalchuk leaving town with his handling of the press and, oh yeah, his ability to keep scoring at age 41.

As for Kovalchuk, life is good for him in Russia. SKA named him team captain and he’s essentially the face of the KHL. He’s currently eighth in the league in points, averaging over a point per game.

Ponikarovsky jumps to KHL, signs two-year deal with SKA

Alexei Ponikarovsky

Ilya Kovalchuk will have familiar company joining him in Russia.

Igor Eronko reports Devils forward Alexei Ponikarovsky has signed a two-year deal in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg. There he’ll team up with Kovalchuk and aim to win the Gagarin Cup to make up for the Stanley Cup they couldn’t win in 2012 with New Jersey.

Since being traded by Toronto in the 2009-10 season, Ponikarovsky’s career has seen him bounce to five different teams (Pittsburgh, Carolina, Los Angeles, New Jersey, and Winnipeg) and two different tours with the Devils. In those three seasons he’s scored a total of 25 goals, the kinds of numbers he used to put up in a single season with the Leafs.

Now that he’s off to Russia, it gives him a chance to find a spark in his game yet again. After hopping from team to team here, this move may actually be for the best.

DeBoer: Kovalchuk-less Devils have a big challenge

Peter DeBoer

New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer wasn’t trying to fool anyone today when asked about the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk for the KHL.

According to DeBoer, next season’s Devils team will be a far different version than the one that made it to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.

“Sure it’s different,” DeBoer said, per the Star-Ledger. “You take out a (Zach) Parise and you take out a Kovalchuk. Those are players who single-handedly can do some things that only a handful of players in the world can do. We’re going to have to be a different team.

“We’re going to have to play more of a team game. Our five-man units and our systems are going to have to be air tight. Our special teams are going to have to be better. Goaltending is going to have to be top notch like it has been. There is going to be an emphasis on all those areas because you’re taking out a couple game-breaking players.”

The Devils missed the playoffs in 2013 (though they were perhaps a bit unlucky in that regard), so clearly they have a pretty big challenge facing them next season.

They should, however, be better in one area, and that’s goaltending. You’ll recall that Martin Brodeur was hurt for a lengthy stretch of this past season, during which Johan Hedberg really struggled to fill in. And let’s be honest, Brodeur wasn’t exactly unbeatable when he was healthy, finishing with a save percentage of just .901.

Now, after Cory Schneider came over from Vancouver, the Devils have a legitimate competition for the starting job.