Ilya Kovalchuk, right wing for the New Jersey Devils, announced that he would be retiring from the NHL at 30 years old to pursue other hockey options in his hometown Russia. Every Devils fan worldwide was left stunned late Thursday evening as the loss of fan-favorite Kovalchuk was repeated by every credible media stations out there. While there are many ways to look at this loss for the New Jersey Devils, I’ll give you two of the more simple ways to analyze this departure.
First and foremost, I tend to gravitate towards players leaving their respective teams to play for their hometown city or state. We’ve seen that happen plenty over different sports, but it seems as though the Devils have hit that bug quite constantly; Zach Parise left for his Minnesota home last year and David Clarkson returned to his Toronto roots a couple of weeks ago. So, yes, I can understand when players want to return to their hometown.
But, I don’t understand Kovalchuk leaving the New Jersey Devils. Let’s examine the facts. He has twelve years and $77 million left on his contract. Dang, do you REALLY love home that much?! Kovalchuk is leaving the security of a decade long deal and $77 million to go back home. That’s tough to swallow, as a Devils’ fan.
Again, I comprehend those players that want to return home to play. Often, they return home by either a combination of money and/or family. In Kovalchuk’s case, he pointed to one of those factors as a reason to returning to Russia, and it wasn’t money.
Then again, to play devils advocate on myself, the team Kovalchuk will be playing for in the KHL (Russia’s major league) is SKA, and that franchise is argubally the most dominating team in the league, but they also have political connections to Vladimir Putin, President of Russia. Now, I know that $77 million is tough to walk away from, but Putin – during the lockout last year – was quoted as willing to offer Kovalchuk and other Russian-NHL players an “immense” amount of money to stay in the KHL.
I got a great tweet yesterday from Kyle Rodriguez, who said: “Imagine how much he's getting from the KHL. They offered him more during the lockout. He's like their Lebron James.”
But, even with that being said, twelve years and $77 million is twelve years and $77 million. To say the least, Kovy is leaving a lot of security on the table.
Now, I know a lot of fans have said that Kovalchuk quit the Devils after he saw what was happening to the franchise. Do I need to go over the timeline of things that happened for the Devils? Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2012, failure in five disheartening games, then Zach Parise decides to team up with Ryan Suter in Minnesota, the lockout happened, Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur got injured late in the condensed season to result in a 19-19 season, David Clarkson left in the offseason, Martin Brodeur appears on his way out, and the Devils are also apparently in fiscal trouble as well.
With all that being said, it’s easy to come up with the Kovalchuk quit theory, and I’ll admit, I have thought about that factor of things. But, as I said earlier, I tend to justify players leaving to go to their hometown team. I’ll be honest though; this abrupt retirement by Kovalchuk completely surprised me.