Kovalchuk’s mom: Time in KHL during lockout strongly influenced decision

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When the lockout happened, Ilya Kovalchuk took the opportunity to play for SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. He returned to the New Jersey Devils when the work stoppage happened, but it looks like his time there was a key factor in his decision to walk away from the NHL.

Kovalchuk’s mother opened up to the media about what transpired and one of the first questions she was asked was if he enjoyed his time with SKA.

“Of course,” Kovalchuk’s mother told SovSport’s in an interview translated by Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov. “Otherwise this question about leaving the NHL wouldn’t even be raised. And so it happened.”

Kovalchuk first began to talk about this matter with his family back in January, but he finished the season with the Devils so everything could be handled in a “civilized manner.”

Some will still be surprised that Kovalchuk would leave the NHL with $77 million over 12 years left on his contract, but his mother argued that number is misleading.

“After the lockout, there are a lot of restrictions at all teams,” she said. “They are also underpaid 20% [of their salary]. The League takes it as an escrow that may not be paid back if the NHL does not make profit. And then there’s government tax of 50%. That means on paper you are being paid $10 million a year, but in reality only 3. So the pendulum swung for Russia.”

How much Kovalchuk will make in the KHL is unclear, but there are reports indicating that he could end up making more annually at a taxation rate of 13%.

But for now, all that’s official is that he has retired from the NHL:

Related:

Devils players didn’t see Kovalchuk retirement coming

So, what’s next for the Devils without Kovalchuk?

What they’re saying about Kovalchuk bolting for the KHL

Devils players didn’t see Kovalchuk retirement coming

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If you were blindsided by Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision to announce his retirement for the purposes of heading to the KHL, you aren’t alone.

We previously reported that Zach Parise was “shocked” when he found out about the news and apparently that was the word of the day for the Devils.

“It’s definitely a little bit of a shocker,” Travis Zajac told the Bergen Record. “I didn’t really see that coming.”

Zajac was so surprised when he first heard the news that he reached out to Record writer Tom Gulitti to see if the reports were true. Martin Brodeur also used the word “shocker” to describe his reaction.

“I was like, ‘What? I’m the one who should be having that news. Not him,’” Brodeur, 41, added.

Devils captain Bryce Salvador also used the word of the day, but added that “you’ve got to respect” his desire to play at home.

Brodeur took things a bit further and suggested that the lockout might have played an important role in Kovalchuk’s decision.

“When you go through what he went through with his contract and the controversy and everything and to finally settle on a number and you turn around and that number is change dramatically because of the new CBA, that might have ticked him off a lot,” Brodeur said. “And for him, if there wasn’t a lockout, he would have never tasted the KHL.”

Brodeur added that as a player, he can understand Kovalchuk’s decision, but as a man that’s invested decades into the New Jersey Devils, he’s disappointed.

“He committed himself for a long time and when you turn around a few years after and you decide to just leave everything, it’s not like we’re getting anything for him,” Brodeur said. “If anything, it’s costing us money on the cap ($250,000 per season for 12 years as the cap recapture penalty for retiring before the end of the contract).”

One other sentiment that multiple Devils shared: Replacing Kovalchuk isn’t simple. But they’re going to try and win anyways.

PHT Morning Skate: Wendel Clark thinks highly of Clarkson

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Nick Leddy brought the Stanley Cup to Minneapolis yesterday. The Minnesota-native was drafted by the Wild, but traded to Chicago in 2010. (Star Tribune)

Wendel Clark thinks newly signed Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Clarkson is a more talented player than he was. (NHL.com)

25-year-old defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti is reportedly heading to the KHL after spending the 2013 campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes. (Hurricanes.nhl.com)

Andrew Ference gave Matt Brown the Boston Bruins’ Army Ranger jacket, which was given to the top player after each playoff victory. Brown is a former hockey player, but he was paralyzed during a game in 2010. “Everything the jacket represented, he’s just that to a T, so I knew it would be special to him and I knew it would be special to me,” Ference said. (Boston Globe)

19-year-old forward Riley Barber was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and he’s already looking like a potential steal. (CSN Washington)

Steve Politi sees Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision to leave the New Jersey Devils as an “absolute disaster.” At least for now. (Star-Ledger)

So, what’s next for the Devils without Kovalchuk?

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However New Jersey Devils fans feel about Ilya Kovalchuk’s departure, the fact is that he’s gone. This means New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello must answer the question: “What happens now?”

As long-time Devils forward Patrik Elias told the Newark Star-Ledger, the “retired” 30-year-old leaves a crater in the roster thanks to his absence.

“It’s going to be interesting over the next couple of months to watch Lou figure out what to do. I’ve never seen anything like this in my 18 years here,” Elias said. “No question it’s going to affect the team. You can question his defensive play, but offensively Kovy was a key guy. He was putting up the numbers.”

This post takes an abbreviated look at the impact of this loss and a variety of factors for Lamoriello to consider.

What New Jersey loses

As Elias states, Kovalchuk is a rare scorer. He scored 417 goals and exactly a point-per-game in 816 career contests. Even the most optimistic Devils fan would admit that there isn’t a sniper on his level on the roster.

Kovalchuk logged substantial minutes, too. His 24:44 minutes per game ranked 17th overall in the NHL in 2013 and was the highest average of any forward. (No other forward ranked in the top 30.)

Also of note: the Devils forfeit their 2014 first-rounder because of the league punishments involving the team’s first attempted contract with Kovalchuk. That lost pick could sting quite a bit, especially since Hockey Prospectus ranks the team’s farm system as the third-worst in the NHL, with an especially “barren” forward group.

Potential gains

There are some bright sides, however. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll ignore the money-saving elements that could make more of a difference off the ice.

Most obviously, the Devils clear Kovalchuk’s $6.667 million cap hit, which was set to expire in 2024-25. His age and an injury-plagued 2013 season imply that he might be passing his peak years.

Cap Geek estimates that New Jersey’s cap space is now around $10.6 million, and while they’re unlikely to spend to the ceiling, they can use that money to re-sign Adam Henrique and test the free agent market a bit.

With that in mind, here are a few guys Lamoriello might look at. (Note: restricted free agents could theoretically be an option, but there are enough complications that we’ll just direct you to this listing.)

Some UFA targets

Mikhail Grabovski
Jaromir Jagr
Vinny Prospal
Mason Raymond
Damien Brunner

There’s also the possibility of nabbing someone via a trade – the name Ales Hemsky sprouted up, for one – so at least the Devils gain options and flexibility.

Now, would any of these options completely replace Kovalchuk? That’s highly unlikely, but Lamoriello might just make the best of this tough situation.

 

What they’re saying about Kovalchuk bolting for the KHL

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Few – aside from New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, perhaps – saw Ilya Kovalchuk’s “retirement” decision coming. It’s not surprising that people reacted in dramatic ways, though.

Let’s take a look at what observers had to say about Kovalchuk leaving the Devils and NHL behind for the KHL.

It would be foolish not to start with former player and NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick, who fired up six critical Tweets up following the announcement. Here are (arguably) the two most memorable quips:

(There’s a strong chance “Again, I’m right in my analysis,” will have some legs as a Twitter meme.)

The Hockey News’ Adam Porteau makes a timely Alex Ovechkin reference.

Former NHL.com writer Dave Lozo spoils a Sean Connery movie from 1990.

The National Post’s Bruce Arthur reminds us that playing in a foreign land isn’t necessarily easy, even if you’ve been in North America for years.

This won’t provide Devils fans much/any solace, but the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman notes another silver lining for the franchise.

Indeed, TSN’s Bob McKenzie ranks among the many who believe that both Kovalchuk and the Devils were mutually on board with the move. Or at least there were benefits for both sides.

Metta World Peace – aka the NBA player formerly known as Ron Artest – provided one of the best lines on Thursday:

Meanwhile, many Devils fans (and hockey fans in general) probably relate to In Lou We Trust’s simple headline: “What?”

At least, that’s likely the PG version of their reactions …