Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
The image you see on your left of Ilya Kovalchuk is supposedly from being injured in a National Hockey League game. Maybe though he just knew that life in the United States was not for him and he was going to do what thousands do on a daily basis to get out of work ; call out sick.
The 30 year old, with 11 years experience under his belt and 417 goals in 816 games, was counted on heavily by the New Jersey Devils to be an offensive force and potentially team up with new signing Michael Ryder on the top line.
Instead he has chosen to follow in Mark Messier‘s footsteps, taking his puck and going home. Rumors abound that his deal to go back to his homeland, Russia, and play in the KHL is already signed and could be worth upwards of 15-20 million dollars.
Now, Kovalchuk signed a deal with general manager Lou Lamoriello in 2010 for a whopping 15 years and 100 million dollars that cost New Jersey a first round pick when it was found to be collusion based. He also reportedly turned down a larger offer to come play with the New York Islanders prior to putting his signature on the dotted line in Newark.
After scoring 89 goals in 222 games with the black and red, all seemed fine despite his apparent longing to ‘go back home’. I personally have never bought into this homesick philosophy of an athlete and to be honest, cannot possibly see that as being the reason he swiftly announced his retirement from the NHL this afternoon. This stinks worse than the swampland that lines the New Jersey Turnpike in the dead of summer and I will tell you my thoughts why.
The Devils are publicly facing a tremendous financial battle to stay afloat as rumors of bankruptcy abound almost monthly. The contract was extremely prohibitive to the future cash flow of the organization. With only approximately 3.9mm remaining in salary cap this season (according to capgeek.com) it put a strain on the rebuilding that must occur on the Devils roster. Now, all of a sudden, a healthy productive superstar announces his retirement throwing everything positive the way of not only the player but the front office as well.
The Devils only have to pay a penalty of 250k over the life of the now terminated contract, upping their available space to 10.6mm. Sure, they lose a very good player and first round draft pick but it sets them up to not be constrained by the financial burden the 15 year deal would have certainly posed down the line as his play inevitably turned for the worse.
Kovalchuk himself gets a fat, juicy deal in the KHL that will more than double his present salary he was making in the United States as part of the Devils organization.
This sets a horrendous and dangerous precedent going forward for both players and general managers alike. Any team that finds themselves in a similar situation can talk the player into retiring, going back to his homeland or taking a year off, then coming back as an unrestricted free agent. Likewise, players now know they can leverage the KHL or perhaps other league’s who are offering large sums of money for stars to jump ship to get out of their current contractual obligation that they signed in the first place with their own hand.
The Devils were found to have engaged in illegal practices to get Ilya signed in the first place. Is it so out of the question they engaged in similar tactics to get him out?
Something definitely smells a lot different in Jersey after these shenanigans. What do you think? Vote below and let your voice be heard.