What has been assumed and reported for days has been officially announced. Ilya Kovalchuk has inked a four-year contract with SKA Saint Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Last week, Kovalchuk sent shock waves through the hockey world when he decided to retire from the NHL despite having $77 million left on his 15-year, $100 million contract. Kovalchuk’s decision left the New Jersey Devils with a massive hole in their lineup, not to mention a $250,000 annual cap recapture penalty through 2024-25.
On top of that, the Devils don’t have a first round draft pick in 2014 as punishment for their first attempt to sign Kovalchuk.
Following his retirement, it quickly became apparent that Kovalchuk would head to the KHL to extend his career. His mother suggested that this had been on the 30-year-old forward’s mind since January and he was influenced by his time with SKA during the lockout.
Taxation in the United States as well as the NHL’s escrow rules were also apparently factors as it’s believed that Kovalchuk stands to benefit financially from this maneuver. SKA hasn’t released the financial terms of their agreement with Kovalchuk.
The next time a wide North American audience sees him on the ice might be during the 2014 Winter Olympics. Team Russia and the United States will be in the same division.
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Could Kovalchuk return to the NHL in 2018?
Columnist says lockout prompted Kovalchuk’s departure
Some, like Don Cherry, point to greed. Others believe that it’s all too easy to ignore family and the comforts of home when we consider a hockey player’s motives. There are also people who believe that the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk reached a mutually beneficial decision when he opted to bolt for the KHL.
The New York Post’s Larry Brooks blames a different factor to explain why the 30-year-old won’t suit up in Newark any longer: the lockout.
But it was this latest lockout that unlocked the door to St. Petersburg and the KHL for Kovalchuk, a man of independence who was ultimately granted his by Lou Lamoriello as the least of all evils.
There may be owners on the NHL Board of Governors, but 15-year contract notwithstanding, Kovalchuk simply would not cede ownership of his life to these men who had prohibited him from playing under that very contract for more than the first scheduled three months of last season.
Kovalchuk’s mom ranks among those who’ve said that this wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t spending a portion of the 2012-13 hockey season in the KHL.
Ultimately, it’s probably too simple to point to one factor when it’s likely that plenty of facets influenced his decision. Even so, this Brooks line might be quite true:
Revenue increased on a per capita basis, TV ratings reached record levels and the NHL conducted business as usual once the Board of Governors unlocked the doors in January, but Owners’ Lockout III did indeed produce collateral damage, with Ilya Kovalchuk serving as Exhibit A.
Once the shock of his “retirement” to the KHL wore off, more than a few people in the hockey world were saddened to think that Ilya Kovalchuk’s days in the NHL are over. That might not be the case, however.
His sister Arina told Sovsport.ru (in Russian) that Kovalchuk wants to return to America after three years. The New York Post’s Larry Brooks points out that Kovalchuk would need the New Jersey Devils’ approval to return to the NHL by then – which would be 2016 – but that rule would be lifted entirely when the 30-year-old star turns to 35.
Ilya Kovalchuk will be removed from the “voluntary retired list” upon reaching his 35th birthday on April 15, 2018, and thereby would become an unrestricted free agent if the winger were to pursue a return to the NHL for the 2018-19 season.
Such a scenario (not to mention the 2016 possibility his sister mentioned) would generate quite a bit of controversy and prompt plenty of questions.
One of the key ones: how much would a team trust Kovalchuk to sign a 35+ contract, considering how his “first retirement” went? In a hypothetical scenario where he’d retire out of the blue again, that franchise would be stuck with whatever cap hit he’d carry regardless.
Of course, there’s the very real possibility that his NHL days are over, for real. After all, it doesn’t get much better than finishing with exactly a point-per-game in your career (816 in 816).
Still, it could make for a fascinating story to follow, especially if he gets to play against the Devils.
(H/T to Puck Daddy.)
If there’s any sort of upside for the New Jersey Devils out of the Ilya Kovalchuk retirement disaster, it comes from veteran forward Patrik Elias.
The 37 year-old Devils veteran tells Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger if he hadn’t re-signed with New Jersey already, Kovalchuk’s decision wouldn’t have made a difference on him.
“I don’t think it would have had an impact,” Elias said. “For me the decision (to stay with the Devils) was bigger than one guy.”
For Elias, his decision may have come from his own legacy with the team.
Previously in his career as a free agent he had a huge offer from the New York Rangers but the Devils ponied up to keep him there. When you spend 17 seasons and 18 years with a team, sometimes that means more to you when you get older.
Ilya Kovalchuk’s “retirement” from the NHL to head to Russia had some in the industry thinking it could lead to other Russian players ditching the North America for the KHL.
As Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press shares, many insiders aren’t buying that. Agent Mark Gandler, whose client list includes Alexander Semin and Alex Burmistrov, says guys won’t start leaving in droves.
“I don’t think it’s an epidemic or anything like that,” he said. “I think each person makes his decision based on the circumstances that he’s in, based on his environment, his family, his upbringing.”
Kovalchuk’s choice was to head home and have his family join him there. That hasn’t stopped speculation that he was upset with how much money he lost thanks to taxes and escrow payments. In Russia he can make just as much money as he would in the NHL except it’ll be tax-free there.
As Gandler told Whyno, “The only incentive they can give you, in theory, is money.” That along with a less-busy schedule and thus more family time could just mean that much to him.