In a move that sent shockwaves through the NHL and could shift the balance of power in the Capitals’ new division, Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL on Thursday.
In doing so Kovalchuk, 30, walks away from the final 12 years and $77 million remaining on his contract with the Devils.
“This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia,” Kovalchuk said in a release. “Though I decided to return this past season, [Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello] 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.”
Lamoriello said he has spoken with Kovalchuk about his desire to retire for the past year.
“On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors,” Lamoriello said.
In 816 games for the Atlanta Thrashers and Devils, Kovalchuk recorded 417 goals and 399 assists.
According to a Capitals spokesperson, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, who has played with Kovalchuk on several Russian national teams, was on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Without Kovalchuk in the lineup, the Devils’ stock in the Eastern Conference could take a nose-dive. They failed to make the playoffs last season after reaching the Stanley Cup Final the year before.
With Kovalchuk gone, the Devils now have slightly under $11 million in salary cap space and could take a stab at unrestricted free agents Jaromir Jagr and/or Mikhail Grabovski.