Ilya Kovalchuk Stuns New Jersey Devils by Retiring from NHL

Carl Stoffers@@NHLwriterCorrespondent IIJuly 11, 2013

Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL on July 11
Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL on July 11Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils have had a tumultuous off season.

There was bad news, as they lost David Clarkson to free agency almost a year to the day after Zach Parise bolted for Minnesota.

There was also plenty to be excited about, as President/General Manager Lou Lamoriello acquired Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider on draft day, perhaps providing the long-term solution to the fast-approaching "after Marty" era. Lamoriello stayed active on the trade and free agent markets, re-signing veterans Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus and Marek Zidlicky, while bringing aboard Ryan Clowe, Michael Ryder and Rostislav Olesz.

Oft-injured defenseman Henrik Tallinder was unloaded to the Buffalo Sabres, as the crafty general manager attempted to make room for one of several young defensemen in New Jersey's system.

Despite the loss of Clarkson, one of the most popular Devils in recent history, the future looked good in New Jersey. The multiple moves showed that Lamoriello wasn't about to stand pat and was remaining true to his word that the Devils are always looking to improve.

Then, the bottom fell out.

Today, forward Ilya Kovalchuk announced he would retire form the NHL, leaving 12 years and $77 million on the table in New Jersey. More importantly, the Devils have unexpectedly lost the heart and soul of their offense.

A classic sniper, Kovalchuk has evolved over the last several seasons in New Jersey into a more complete player, even spending time on the penalty kill the last two seasons. He also worked hard to shed the reputation for selfishness he brought when he arrived via trade with Atlanta in February, 2010.

Still, his main contribution, and the one that will be sorely missed, is his offensive prowess. Kovalchuk led the team in goals (31) in 2010-11, his first full season in New Jersey, and powered the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011-12 while notching a team-leading 37 goals and 83 points.

His departure leaves a gaping hole in the New Jersey offense, already smarting from the departure of the gritty Clarkson, himself a former 30-goal scorer. Barring another roster move, the Devils will have to rely heavily on 37 year-old Patrik Elias for production in the offensive zone this season.