One of the reasons New Jersey could not afford to re-sign David Clarkson this off-season was because Ilya Kovalchuk still had a dozen years and $77 million left on his contract. Clarkson left the Devils, signing a whopping seven-year, $36.75 million contract with Toronto on the first day of free agency last week.
His signing just became a double-whammy for Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello following Thursday’s stunning announcement that Kovalchuk, in the prime of his career at age 30, has decided to retire so he could return to Russia.
That Kovalchuk would walk away from $77 million tells you this was not about money, but about lifestyle. Kovalchuk played in Russia during the lockout. It was no secret he seemed very happy to be back home and was reportedly reluctant to return to the NHL when the lockout ended in January. In hindsight, the time spent in his homeland undoubtedly influenced him more than anyone imagined.
He now appears headed to play in the KHL. His statement read: “This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia. Though I decided to return this past season, Lou was aware of my desire to go back home and have my family there with me.
"The most difficult thing for me is to leave the New Jersey Devils, a great organization that I have a lot of respect for, and our fans that have been great to me.”
Kovalchuk and Clarkson scored 26 of the Devils' 112 goals last season. That represents 23 percent of New Jersey’s offense, which is gone. The Devils signed Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder but they can’t fill the hole Kovy just left.
Under the new CBA’s “cap recapture” clause, the Devils will only pay $250,000 a year against the cap on Kovalchuk’s contract through 2024-25. They will, however, still forfeit a 2014 first-round pick as part of a penalty for signing Kovalchuk to the contract they did.
Another misfortune for Lamoriello to bear. The Devils' GM said in a statement today:
“After many conversations with Ilya over the past year on his desire to retire from the National Hockey League, Ilya’s decision became official today. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors.”
In four seasons as a Devil, Kovalchuk scored 80 goals and had 201 points is 222 games -- almost a point-a-game player. He also had eight goals and 19 points in 23 playoff games as a Devil.
Overall, in 11 NHL seasons, he amassed 417 goals, 399 assists for 816 points in exactly 816 games.
Needless to say, his departure greatly weakens the Devils and bolsters the Flyers' chances even more in what will become a realigned NHL for 2013-14.