Russia v USA - 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Quarterfinals

Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils announced his retirement from the NHL today. Seriously.

One of the most gifted players of the last decade, one of my personal favourites to watch, has decided to head back to Russia for good at age 30. Whether he plays in the KHL or not remains to be seen, but it seems pretty likely. He’s leaving $77 million on the table over the remainder of his contract after making $53,829,023 (according to @bcostellothn) over the course of his career in North America, but…

Yeah, he’s going to be okay financially. Money’s not a huge issue here.

Even for the Devils it’s not all that massive from a money standpoint. They got some of the best years of the guy’s career, and will only have to pay a cap hit of .25 mill per season until 2025 according to CapGeek. While $250k is a lot to you and me, it isn’t that damaging when it comes to dealing with the NHL salary cap.

But the money thing aside – and man, it’s okay to push it aside for the moment – this blows. As I said on Twitter, Kovalchuk was a player who used his size extremely well, was quick but never seemed rush, and had a huge shot. He was a classy dude too. He was a thrill to watch play. He’ll be missed in the NHL.

I’ll write more on his career in the coming weeks – why I wish he hadn’t been drafted by Atlanta and traded to New Jersey, how I think the Yaroslavl tragedy affected him a great deal, how I think this makes the most sense for him – but for now, I’m just bummed. He’s likely doing the right thing for him and his family, and I can dig that. But from a purely hockey perspective (I see you, Devils season ticket holders)…this isn’t a great day for the leauge.

Here’s what the Devils and Kovalchuk had to say:

Statement from New Jersey Devils President/CEO/General Manager Lou Lamoriello:

“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.”

Statement from Ilya Kovalchuk:

“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.”

Kovalchuk played 11 seasons in the NHL, including the last four with New Jersey. He retires with career NHL totals of 417 goals and 399 assists for 816 points with 516 penalty minutes in 816 games.

He added 11 goals and 16 assists in 32 career playoff games. Kovalchuk scored 89 goals and 112 assists for 201 points in 222 games, while adding eight goals and 11 assists in 23 playoff games with the Devils. He was traded to New Jersey by Atlanta on February 4, 2010. He was Atlanta’s first choice, and the first overall selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Born April 15, 1983 in Tver, Russia, Kovalchuk represented Russia at three Olympic Winter Games, nine World Championships, one World Junior Championship and the 2004 World Cup.”