Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk retires from NHL
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk is retiring from the NHL and returning to Russia.
The Devils announced the stunning news Thursday afternoon in a statement, saying that the 30-year-old Kovalchuk had alerted general manager and president Lou Lamoriello earlier this year that he wanted to return home with his family after 11 seasons in the NHL.
"This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia,'' said Kovalchuk, the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft. "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.''
The move is more surprising because Kovalchuk signed a $100 million, 15-year contract in 2010. He'll be walking away from it.
He had $77 million left on the contract that expires in 2024-25. He was to earn more than $11 million each of the next four seasons and $10 million in the fifth season before his contract numbers started to decline.
"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,'' Lamoriello said in a statement. "On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors.''
The defection means the Devils have lost their top two players after each of the past two seasons. Zach Parise signed as a free agent with Minnesota after their 2012 run to the Stanley Cup finals and now Kovalchuk is leaving the team without a superstar, since Martin Brodeur can no longer fill that category in his 40s.
Acquired in a trade with Atlanta, Kovalchuk spent his last four seasons with the Devils. He scored 417 goals and 399 assists for 816 points in 816 NHL games. His best NHL seasons were in 2005-06 and 2007-08 when he scored a career-high 52 goals. He had three other 40-goal seasons. His best season with the Devils was 2011-12 when he had 37 goals.
Kovalchuk represented Russia at three Olympic Winter Games, nine World Championships, one World Junior Championship and the 2004 World Cup. He played in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg during the recent lockout and was selected their captain. He participated in the KHL All-Star game before returning to New Jersey for the lockout-shortened 48-game regular season, a campaign where the Devils missed the playoffs.
The Devils added some scoring in the recent free agency period re-signing Patrik Elias while adding Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder as free agents.
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