The New Jersey Devils announced on Thursday that forward Ilya Kovalchuk is retiring from the NHL.
"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," said general manager Lou Lamoriello in a statement.
"On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors."
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.
"At first blush, (the news) is pretty shocking," said TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie. "And then you think about it for a moment and you say no, it's not that shocking at all. We knew coming out of the lockout that there were all sorts of stories saying if he could have stayed in Russia with St. Petersburg he would have done that. He basically came back as a reluctant player after the lockout was over."
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.
"This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia," said Kovalchuk in a team statement. "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."
He represented Russia at three Olympic Winter Games, nine World Championships, one World Junior Championship and the 2004 World Cup.
"It's sad," said Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates, who spent two years as an assistant with the Devils. "It's sad for our league. That's one of our good players, we're going to miss him."
Kovalchuk signed a 15-year, $100 million contract with the Devils in 2010 and leaves $77 million behind with his retirement.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told TSN 1050 Radio on Thursday afternoon that the 'cap advantage' of Kovalchuk's contract was roughly $4 million over the first three years of his contract (as his first two years were significantly below his average annual salary). Daly added that the Devils will have to pay it back in cap charges over the remaining 12 years of the contract (roughly $300,000 a year).
"The short-term pain of losing a significant asset on the team is a long-term financial gain, even though there is a quarter of a million dollar cap hit over the next 12 years," explained McKenzie. "In the grand scheme of things, that's chump change."
It was speculated but not confirmed that Kovalchuk will continue his playing career in the Kontinental Hockey League. Reports from Russian news agencies indicated he will officially sign with SKA Saint Petersburg on Friday.
Kovalchuk played for SKA during the lockout and made it clear several months ago that he would stay there if he could.