Yes, you read that headline correctly. New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk, only 30 years old and a scant three years into a blockbuster 15-year, $100 million contract he signed with the Devils back in 2010, has shocked the hockey world and abruptly retired from the NHL.
According to a report on NHL.com, Kovalchuk, a native of Tver, Russia, seemed to indicate that he wanted to move back to Russia and live with his family there, something that would be obviously impossible if he’s playing an 82-game season each year for the Devils in North America.
The Atlanta Thrashers took Kovalchuk with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 Draft. He played the next seven-plus seasons there, before being dealt to New Jersey during the 2009-10 season. A veteran of 816 NHL games, Kovalchuk has 417 goals and 816 total points for his career. He won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2004 after tying for the NHL lead with 41 goals that year. He only ever made it to the playoffs three times in 11 NHL seasons; once with Atlanta in 2006, and twice with New Jersey (2009-10 and 2011-12). Atlanta was swept out of the first round in 2006 and the 2010 Devils lost their first-round matchup in five games, but in 2012 Kovalchuk and New Jersey made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before losing in six games to the Los Angeles Kings.
Though fans of the New Jersey Devils will undoubtedly be displeased with Kovalchuk’s retirement, the man deserves some credit. At the outset, he chose his family and homeland over a game, and over an incredibly lucrative $102 million contract. However, as of yet, there is no indication as to whether or not Kovalchuk will sign with a KHL team once he’s moved back to Russia. During last season’s lockout, he played for SKA St. Petersburg, notching 42 points in 36 games.
UPDATE: Jeremy Roenick, former NHLer and current analyst for NBCSports, is not pleased with Kovalchuk’s decision:
Hey Ilya hope u live comfortably in Russia w the money u made from the 23 million u stole from the devils Again I’m right in my analysis
— Jeremy Roenick (@Jeremy_Roenick) July 11, 2013