Ilya Kovalchuk Announces His NHL Retirement.

The New Jersey Devils today announced winger Ilya Kovalchuk has retired from the NHL.

Ilya Kovalchuk announces his retirement from the NHL.

Ilya Kovalchuk announces his retirement from the NHL.

 SPECTOR’S NOTE: This is indeed an unexpected development. In a statement, Kovalchuk based his decision on the time he spent last year in Russia during the lockout and of having his family there with him.

By retiring from the NHL, Kovalchuk walks away from the remaining 12 years and $77 million left on his contract with the Devils. It’s expected he’ll join SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, where he played during the lockout.

The announcement naturally surprised many around the NHL, with some critics calling him “selfish”, or considering his decision suspicious.  It must be remembered,  however, Kovalchuk was poised to cash in big on his NHL contract starting this season, as he would’ve earned the bulk of his $100K contract over the next six seasons.

Had he stayed, he would’ve earned over $11 million in real salary in each of the next four seasons, over $10 million in 2017-18, and $7 million in 2018-19. He would’ve earned $11 million last season but lost half of that due to the lockout, though he made up most, if  not all, of the difference in the KHL. He’s leaving a lot of money on the table just to return to Russia, where he’ll undoubtedly earn a lot of money in the short-term, but probably not as much over the long term as he would’ve with the Devils.

Furthermore, as NBC Sports’ Jason Brough noted, there are two silver linings to this for the Devils. First, injuries had reduced Kovalchuk’s effectiveness, as he was no longer the 50-goal scorer he once was, so this gets them off the hook from paying big bucks for a steadily depreciating asset. Second,the salary cap recapture penalty is estimated at only $250K per season through to 2024-25, which is miniscule compared to what it would’ve been had he retired, say, five years from now.

His retirement also frees up considerable cap space for the Devils. They now have over $10 million available for next season, and you can bet GM Lou Lamoriello won’t waste time using it to find a suitable replacement (or two) in what’s left in this summer’s free agent market.

Kovalchuk leaves the NHL a point-per-game player, with 816 regular season points in as many career games, and 27 points in in 32 playoff games. From 2002-03 to 2011-12, Kovalchuk was among the NHL’s top scorers, having his best seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers. He twice scored 50-or-more goals, scored 40-or more goals three times, and four times exceeded the 30-goal mark. He won the Richard Trophy as the league’s top goalscorer in 2004.


  1. What impact if any will there be on the first round pick New Jersey is set to forfeit next season?

  2. No impact on the first rounder. And Lou’s not replacing Kovy with what’s out there. Brunner is the only player of consequence worth signing.

  3. And don’t forget perhaps the biggest benefit to the Devils: A financially-strapped organization won’t have to shell out $56 million in cash over the next five years. For a club that can’t even make its interest payments right now, such a benefit cannot be overlooked.

  4. Lyle, I have a few questions about Kovalchuk’s retirement…

    1) This could be seen as a CBA loophole where instead of eating a contract through a buyout, the player retires from the NHL and plays pro overseas. Will the league hit the Devils with an additional penalty for this when other teams had to use a compliance buyout this offseason to get rid of contracts? I know the circumstances are very different, but this is much more palatable financially for the Devils than a buyout would have been – or for any of the major contracts bought out. I can see the Flyers throwing a fit over this if Bryzgalov could have just retired from the NHL and played in Russia instead of being bought out. Would American or Canadian players do the same just to get out of their contract?

    2) If Kovalchuk signs in the KHL, how does this effect KHL-NHL relations?

    3) Does not paying Kovalchuk millions of dollars actually help the Devils ownership with their financial mess?

    4) I’m a Caps fan. If the NHL turns a blind eye to this, how long before Ovechkin goes to the KHL?

    Lastly, thanks to Kovalchuk for 11 seasons of exciting hockey. I understand his reasons and if I were in the same position and my instincts were saying that going home was best for me and my family, I would do the same.

    • It’s a loophole only if we see this frequently happening over the course of this CBA. Currently, it’s only a specific circumstance. The Devils will only be penalized the salary cap recapture penalty, which fortunately for them will only be $250K until 2024-25. Had he retired five years from now, the cap recapture penalty would’ve been over $4.6 million per season.

      Furthermore, the Devils are allowing him to leave, just as the Predators allowed Sergei Kostitsyn to sign with the KHL despite having a season left on his contract. As one pundit noted, if the Devils wanted to fight this, the NHL would’ve fought it.

      His signing with the KHL won’t affect relations between the two leagues. He retired from the NHL with the Devils blessing. He’s free to do whatever he wants. His retirement certainly helps the Devils ownership, especially the new one believed poised to purchase the club. I understand the timing of this retirement seems suspicious, but there’s nothing to prove this was done deliberately to remove Kovalchuk’s salary from the books.

      • Thanks for answering. The points about the NHL not fighting against Kovalchuk leaving and the similar case with Kostitsyn are ones I didn’t consider. Cheers.

  5. You can’t predict whats going to happen but obviosly this is a huge loss for this Devils team and having to give up next years pick will make it much worse. Losing Kovalchuk stings but if the Devils end up finnishing in the bottom 3-5 or even dead last because of losing Kovalchuk, and then miss out on a potential top 5 or even a 1st overall pick because of his signing in the first place… it will be all that much more devestating.

    • I’d never thought of that! That’d be amazing.

  6. I think this doesn’t become so bad if it is only a little bit earlier so the Devils 100% knew what their situation was going to be like. It certainly does help them financially, but it also kills them with selling value as IMO Kovi was their biggest name and their star player. I hope the Devils are able to finish well this year so the loss of the 1st doesn’t hit as close to home because I think overall this is the biggest loss of all. But in the long run lets look at the good points.

    1. Devils freed up some cap space
    2. The opened up some money to help repay their debts
    3. The did still get their future #1 goalie at the draft
    4. They have some great young players still

    If the Devils had the assets I would be an advocate for them trying to pick up Vanek as a replacement, but I still think there are some UFA’s they can pick up. It certainly opens up space to get Henrique and Jofesen under contract and they can try and add a winger like Brunner or Boyes to the team to help offset some of the loss.

  7. Seems to me that Kovy was very honorable in walking away from so much money to be with family. From the article, it seems apparent that Kovy and Lou had a lot of discussion about this beforehand, and kept mum until Kovy had made his decision, which also gives Lou time to pick up Brunner or Grabovski or someone to partially fill in for Kovy’s loss.

    Seems to me everyone’s got to be happy with this, including fans, as Kovy might have provided another year or two of dramatic play, but after that, it would be all about how his contract tied up Devil finances…

  8. I wonder what the odds are that Luongo up and follows suit, probably not to play in Russia but just says I’m done with it and retires. He has made a ton of money and is a decent Poker Player, could probably make some money coaching in the minors or working as a goalie coach somewhere if he wanted to. Can’t see him playing for Gillis and Torts that is for sure.

    • Or if Gillis wants a way out call up the Panthers and offer them Luongo, 2nd round pick, and to eat $2 million/year and try and pry Markstrom away.

      However this is about Kovie, it just really has me curious if some other big contract players may do the same and how it could be avoided.

  9. OK … I’m not saying this is there is any intent by the devils here .. so don’t jump all over me .. but how can a player “retire”, get out of their contract, the team not be liable for the cap hit, and the player is free to just go play in the KHL right away?

    Hypothetically… Whats to keep a team…lets say the Flyers .. from asking their overpriced/way-too-long-term-contracted players named Ilya, from “retiring” to the KHL, where they will get payed a plenty, so that the teams are not having to be constrained by the crazy cap hit they wish they hadn’t had signed up for?

    So if Chris Pronger retires from the LTIR and doesn’t go to the KHL, do the Flyers just owe 250k a year for the rest of the contract? <<This actually seems OK to me if there not still playing somewhere….but at what point does this become cap circumvention? Whats to keep GM's from signing long term contracts to lower the cap hit , then have the players "retire"

    Could Vancouver ask Lu to go play in the KHL for a year?

    • Pronger was over 35 when he signed so if he were to retire it would still count agains the cap and the 250k is not a standard penilty, it is the result of Kovalchuk making 23m in actual dollars over the 3 years and the devils cap hit being only 20m in that same time period thus they have to pay the 3m back on their cap hit over the remaining 12 years of his contract 12 divided by 3 = 250k per year

      • thanks for clarifying on the 250k.

    • That could have happened with Bryzgalov and Philadelphia; however, the difference there is Bryzgalov wants to continue his NHL career.

      • I get that. my point was whats to keep teams from trying to talk their players into getting payed in the khl for a year ( especially high payed , long contract players that are performing badly), then returning from retirement to get a new contract with the same team or others .. or even just staying in the khl if their play stayed in a declined state .

        just seems like a get out of a bad contract for free mechanism. obviously it cant be used universally, but there will be situations where I could see it being used.

        • For Kovie to play in the NHL again, every GM has to approve it. Even if one says no, he cannot play

          • and there’s the one that makes this much more palatable. in my mind, that closes the loophole. glad to see there’s something in place to prevent abuse.

        • 1.) Most players won’t go play in the KHL for a year when NHL is an option
          2.) This is really a one off occurrence, if it became a trend it would be stopped
          3.) A player with a high paying contract will not help the team get out from under it by retiring to mutually void a contract and then sign with same team for less money. It does not make sense.

          • Hey Man…No worries I[ll be here