The hockey world is shocked. The National Hockey League should be worried. The New Jersey Devils probably saw this coming to a degree, but the fans are beside themselves nonetheless.
Ilya Kovalchuk has retired from the National Hockey League and will not play for the New Jersey Devils next season, likely forfeiting the remaining $77 million on his contract.
One thing for certain is that everyone wants an answer to the following question: “Why did this happen and how did the Devils allow this to happen?”
Here are my possible explanations in order of the most likely.
The injury bug hit Kovalchuk pretty hard while in New Jersey. In the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals versus the Los Angeles Kings, Kovalchuk played with a herniated disk. As a result, he was largely ineffective in the six game series defeat. Last season, Kovalchuk put together a nice string of games early in the season after playing in Russia during the lockout. However, he suffered a shoulder injury against the Florida Panthers at the Prudential Center. The Devils considered shutting Kovalchuk down for the remainder of the season, but Ilya disagreed and returned after missing 11 games. In his absence, the Devils were a dreadful 1-6-4 and all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention. The injuries have been occurring more often, and perhaps he has had enough. The question this theory obviously raises is, “Why will he go on to play in the KHL?” NHL speed is not overwhelmingly above KHL speed. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty comparable with the NHL having the edge.
Lockout (AKA Gary Bettman)
Last year’s NHL lockout did not sit well with many people and it appears that it is still having effects. If there was not a lockout last season, many of the league’s stars, including Ilya Kovalchuk, would not have played overseas. In Kovalchuk’s case, he played in Russia in the KHL for SKA Saint Petersburg, not incredibly far from his hometown of Kalinin. Kovalchuk enjoyed his time playing in Russia and has always enjoyed representing Russia in the Olympics and various World Championships. He has never had anything against playing in Russia.
The NHL’s realignment, placing the Devils in arguably the most difficult of the four new divisions, and the league’s initial rejection of his contract with the Devils also didn’t help Kovy’s attraction to the NHL.
Lack of Support
It’s no secret that with such a large contract, the Devils could not offer much of the star power support on offense that Kovalchuk would have liked. After their Stanley Cup campaign, the Devils lost Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild, partially because they didn’t want to pay so much money with Kovalchuk’s already large salary cap hit. Recently, the team parted ways with David Clarkson, one of last year’s top scorers on the team. The Devils young talent has also not panned out yet. Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby are just two examples. Kovalchuk’s best supporter last season was Patrik Elias, the team’s leading assist-man, but is now getting up there in age at 37 years old. Overall, this probably wasn’t why Kovalchuk made his decision to retire, but the lack of offensive support certainly didn’t push him to stay in New Jersey.
Lack of Contention
Ilya Kovalchuk was thrilled to become a member of the New Jersey Devils, because he wanted to contend for a championship. In his first year with the Devils, the team was eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers losing four of five playoff games. The following year, the team failed to make the playoffs. Then, their run to the Stanley Cup Finals came up two wins short of the Stanley Cup. And most recently, the team failed to make the playoffs for the second time in three years. Fans and Kovalchuk have been disappointed with the team, which previously had made the playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons.
All theories aside, it would have been in Kovalchuk’s best interest to inform the Devils and the fans of this decision before free agency. If this was the case, the Devils and GM Lou Lamoriello could have gone after more of the league’s free agents. Many fans will now only remember Ilya Kovalchuk for leaving the Devils in a most unfavorable position. (Insert your derogatory term here)
And in case you were wondering, the Devils will still not have a first round draft pick next year as penalty for the long term Kovalchuk contract. They will also not receive any form of compensation, because Kovalchuk retired. At least, they won’t have to pay Kovalchuk, and his contract will open up some cap space for the team.
Stay tuned to the site for more on this breaking story and what this means for the New Jersey Devils, the National Hockey League, and the hockey world.
And Devils fans, just remember the following: