Ilya Kovalchuk Retires from NHL After 11-Year Career, Signs Contract with KHL

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst IJuly 11, 2013

After an 11-year career in the National Hockey League, Ilya Kovalchuk has decided to call it quits in North America. 

UPDATE: Monday, July 15, at 5:13 p.m. ET by Tom Kinslow

Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo! Sports has the latest comments from Ilya Kovalchuk on his retirement from the NHL and move to Russia.

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UPDATE: Monday, July 15, at 6:10 a.m. ET by Brandon Galvin

Yahoo! Sports' Dmitry Chesnokov has the latest on Ilya Kovalchuk:

The team confirmed Chesnokov's report:

SKA Hockey Club is glad to announce the signing of a contract with a forward Ilya Kovalchuk. It's a four-year deal. The forward will be playing for SKA under number 17.

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The 30-year-old winger played for the Atlanta Thrashers during the early part of his career before joining the New Jersey Devils in the middle of the 2009-10 NHL season. He will now retire as a Devil in lieu of returning for his 12th professional season. 

New Jersey's official Twitter account confirmed the news on Thursday afternoon:

The franchise then followed with a press release on its website. Here's the full statement from Kovalchuk himself in that release:

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.

Devils team president, CEO and general manager Lou Lamoriello chimed in with this quote:

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. On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors.

Kovalchuk leaves the NHL with 12 years remaining on a landmark 15-year, $100 million contract he signed in 2010. As reported by, Kovalchuk was the biggest prize on the free-agent market that year and stayed with New Jersey after joining the club in a midseason trade with Atlanta earlier that season. 

Devils beat reporter Tom Gulitti confirmed that Kovalchuk's contract has been voided:

In doing so, the winger leaves $77 million on the table in the NHL. As Renaud Lavoie of RDS said on Twitter, Kovalchuk's decision to leave the Devils likely had nothing to do with money:

Former teammate Ray Ferraro, now an analyst for TSN, was another wondering why a 30-year-old player in his prime would leave the game with both a hefty contract and solid future as a player ahead of him:

There have been reports from Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy that the Russian winger had agreed to a massive deal with KHL team SKA St. Petersburg. However, Puck Daddy's Dimitry Chesnokov reports that the Russian club has denied that a deal was in place in January, and have yet to announce that any kind of deal is done. 

The left winger finishes his career with 816 NHL games, averaging a point every game en route to 816 career points (417 goals, 399 assists). He also had 516 career penalty minutes and led the NHL in short-handed goals last year with four.    

Kovalchuk finished in the top 10 in goals scored eight different times during his career, During the 2003-04 campaign, he was first among all players with 41 goals scored. He achieved a career high in goals in two different seasons, scoring 52 at the end of the 2005-06 and 2007-08 seasons in Atlanta. 

The three-time NHL All-Star also led the league in power-play goals in 2005-06 with 27. 

He played in just 37 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 NHL season, missing time in March and April with a shoulder injury.

A year removed from losing in the Stanley Cup Final, Kovalchuk and the Devils failed to make the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons. 

The contract he signed with New Jersey would have taken him into his 40s, but Kovalchuk is instead walking away from a league that helped make him one of the most consistent scorers in the game for the majority of his professional career.