In a decision that has stunned hockey insiders and fans across the state, New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL today, stating a desire to return home to Russia.
Kovalchuk, 30, is the team's best player, and also is at the center of team's finances.
Kovalchuk has 12 years remaining on a 15-year, $100 million contract he signed in September 2010. He originally signed a 17-year, $102 million contract that the league quickly voided, ruling the deal was an attempt to circumvent the salary cap.
The Devils were fined $3 million and lost a first-round draft, which the team opted to surrender in 2014.
"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 statement released by the team this afternoon. "Though I decided to return this past season, (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 wished Kovalchuk well in a statement.
"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," Lamoriello said in a statement. "On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors."
Kovalchuk scored 417 goals and had 816 points in 816 career games. He had 89 goals and 112 assists in 222 games with the Devils and helped lead the team to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.