As expected after retiring from the NHL last week, Ilya Kovalchuk signed a four-year, $15 million dollar per season deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. Kovalchuk’s move to the KHL may have been put into motion this past winter when the 30-year old winger played for SKA St. Petersberg during the NHL lockout. In fact during his most recent stint in Russia it was speculated that Kovalchuk wouldn’t return to the Devils at all. But after the KHL All-Star Game came and went Kovalchuk eventually made his way back to the United States to play out the rest of the season with the Devils.
Kovalchuk walked away from a 15-year deal with the Devils that still had roughly $77 million dollars left on the contract. Knowing that you’d think Kovalchuk is walking away from his contract with New Jersey to get more within the next four years with SKA than he would playing in the NHL. However according to SKA vice-president Roman Rotenberg it was never about the money for Kovalchuk, it was about doing this for the “sake of Russia” (via Sovietsky Sport)
“This is a serious thing,” Rotenberg continued. “A player with superstar status, who has a record contract came up and said ‘You know, I want to go home. To play in Russia, to live closer to my family. To be closer to the people and my fans.’ Ilya Kovalchuk is a true hero in this situation. A hero of Russia, I think. The man didn’t want to disappoint anyone. He is a true patriot. What other words can there be?
Kovalchuk’s sister Arina offered up a different reason as to why her brother bolted the NHL for Russia. According to her it was the instability of the ownership situation in New Jersey and the fact that they had a poor chance at competing for the Stanley Cup this upcoming year that a jump to the KHL was made. She further added that her brother plans to return to the NHL once his contract with SKA runs out:
“Naturally, he plans to return to America and perform in the NHL. But the next [four] years he will play in Russia,” Arina Kovalchuk said.
It may not be that easy though. Kovalchuk actually isn’t eligible to come off the NHL voluntary retired list until he’s 35. And once he does do this he’ll still need permission to return by his former team the Devils in which case if this is granted he’ll be an unrestricted free agent for the 2018-19 season.