The National Hockey League may be in the middle of it’s offseason but there was still no shortage of excitement this past month. Aside from the routine drama that comes from the NHL’s annual draft in addition to the always-scintillating free-agent frenzy, the most shocking news came out of New Jersey as just a few weeks ago, Devils star forward Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL. While some were up in arms about the Russian’s abrupt decision, I was more light-hearted and easygoing about the news.
The announcement of Kovalchuk’s retirement was surprisingly understood by many who felt that during last year’s lockout, the Russian found himself more at home playing with St. Petersburg SKA of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Following his retirement from the NHL, there was massive speculation that Kovalchuk would return to St. Petersburg and, to no one’s surprise, that’s exactly what he did signing a four-year deal with the KHL club he played for during the lockout.
But St. Petersburg’s gain is the New Jersey Devils’ loss. Just three summers ago after weeks of flirting with interest from other teams – most notably the Los Angeles Kings – Kovalchuk decided to stay in New Jersey, re-signing for 15 years.
While I said good riddance to the move then, I am saying good riddance again as I have since believed that not signing Kovalchuk was arguably the best move they ever made. Granted, there will be those who disagree but you do have to admit how much better off the Kings were without him.
While Kovalchuk and the Devils did make the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, they did lose to none other than the Los Angeles Kings. It is also notable to mention that Kovalchuk’s only goal in the series was an empty-netter.
While his services are gone, the New Jersey Devils actually aren’t too affected despite playing under the salary cap. While Kovalchuk only played three years of his 15-year deal, the Devils will only have to take a cap hit of $250,000 for the remaining twelve years of the superstar’s contract, which is, for all intents and purposes, chump change.
Nonetheless, the New Jersey Devils have had to deal with quite a bit of drama resulting in Kovalchuk’s sudden retirement and, as I said three years earlier, the Los Angeles Kings showed what a successfully-run franchise they are simply by not signing Kovalchuk.
As for Kovalchuk’s decision, while he has been heavily criticized by some, I cannot look down on his decision. After all, I have been to both St. Petersburg and Newark (where the Devils play their home games). While one is a dump, the other is the among the top two of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited (Prague being the other). Given a choice between visiting a rundown bar or the Hermitage, I’d have no reservations choosing the latter – and I have a feeling Ilya Kovalchuk would lean that way as well.
The New Jersey Devils will ultimately be better after parting ways with Kovalchuk. As for the Los Angeles Kings, it never affected them anyway which makes them a heck of a lot smarter than the pro-Kovalchuk experts thought three summers earlier.