Breaking news: just announced at 3:35pm today New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk has announced his retirement and to fulfill his desire to return to his family in Russia. Kovalchuk stated
“This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia. 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, a great organization that I have a lot of respect for, and our fans that have been great to me.”
This is a loss to the team that no one in free agency can make up for. The Devils are losing a franchise player, who has the highest goal scoring ability.
Kovalchuk just completed his third year of a 15 year, $100 million contract signed back in 2010-11. There is $77 million remaining on his contract.
There are moves that need to be made and this sudden decision by Kovalchuk should spark some major trades/signings to be done shortly.
The retirement speculations were coming out shortly after the lockout ended, Kovalchuk had a bad attitude about coming back to the NHL and even tried to get out of his contract. However, he decided to return to the Devils during camp. He got his wish now.
Like mentioned earlier, the Devils are in a world of trouble now since they have to give up their first round pick of next years draft, and pay $250,000 every season through 2024-25, but do not owe him any money after he officially retires.
- Now What?
The Devils are now left with plenty of unanswered questions following the announcement.
One popular name being tossed around is Reid Boucher, who set the single season goal scoring record for his Sarnia Sting of the OHL last season with 62 goals in 68 games. However, Boucher is only 19-years-old and has some liabilities on the defensive side of the ice, but cannot be much worse at playing defense than Kovalchuk.
Paul Stastny has been linked to trade rumors as of late, but the Devils were never mentioned. Now there may be interest for the Devils to trade for Stastny. The Avalanche now have four very good Centers on their roster; Stastny, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, and newly drafted Nathan McKinnon. The Avs are looking to send Stastny because he is the oldest, highest paid, and the least performing aside from McKinnon, who has not seen any time in the NHL yet. Stastny is set to make $6.5 million next season and will be a free agent.
Other names being thrown out there for trade bait are Brad Marchand and James Neal. Neal is unlikely to be sent to the Devils, but could need to be traded so the Penguins can keep their other star players, still a long shot. Marchand is more of a likely candidate.
The Devils could also target remaining free agents such as Damien Brunner, Jaromir Jagr (please no), Brenden Morrow, and Mikhail Grabovski. None of these players come close to Kovalchuk’s performance, but would seriously help the Devils next season.
No matter what, the Devils are going to be hurting due to Kovy’s retirement for years to come. Lou Lamoriello and Devils fans have to have a short memory and forget Kovalchuk. Next season is not lost, the Devils will bounce back very strongly and prove doubters wrong.