After shocking the hockey world with his abrupt retirement from the NHL, Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t take long to find a new hockey team to play for. According to Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated, Kovalchuk has signed a four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, just four days after announcing that he would be retiring and leaving the Devils to return to his home country.
Just three years ago, Kovalchuk signed a record setting 15 year, $100 million deal to remain with the New Jersey Devils, making him one of the cornerstones of the franchise. After making the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012 things were looking good for the Devils. But after losing captain Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild and missing the playoffs in the shortened 2012-13 season, Kovalchuk saw that the team was on the decline and elected to return home and play hockey closer to his family.
Kovalchuk’s contract with the Devils still had 12 years and $77 million remaining, so on the surface it would seem that Kovalchuk was leaving a lot of money on the table. Alas, Muir provides an unconfirmed report that Kovalchuk’s contract with SKA St. Petersburg could have an average annual value in the range of $15 million. St. Petersburg also boasts a large number of former NHLers for Kovalchuk to play with, including captain Dmitri Kalinin, Maxim Afinogenov, Petr Prucha, and Evgeny Artyukhin.
Furthermore, the fact that the deal is only for four years raises the possibility that Kovalchuk could return to the NHL. Kovalchuk’s sister, Arina, told a Russian newspaper that Ilya could definitely return to North America someday.
“Naturally, he plans to return to America and perform in the NHL. But the next [four] years he will play in Russia,” Arina Kovalchuk said.
Kovalchuk will only be 34 after his current contract with SKA St. Petersburg runs out, giving him a sizable window to take another shot at the Stanley Cup. Hopefully he won’t need another 15-year contract to make his way back to the NHL.
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Around the Rink Columnist Joe Ray – @jpray_SK