As the NHL world tries to comprehend exactly what happend on Thursday afternoon with the sudden retirement of Ilya Kovalchuk from the league and the New Jersey Devils, the next question that has to be asked is where does Kovalchuk go from here?
The obvious answer: The KHL, and it appears that's where he's headed.
SKA will announce Kovalchuk's signing tomorrow, per @plysenkov, wanted to do it today.— Dmitry Chesnokov (@dchesnokov) July 11, 2013
Kovalchuk spent the lockout playing in the KHL for SKA St. Petersburg and was quoted multiple times about his desire to return to the league at some point. Back on Jan. 10, he told Slava Malamud of the Russian publication Sport Express, "I want to stay in St. Petersburg but I have contractual obligations in the NHL, which will be hard to break."
As it turns out, they weren't really that hard to break.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello already said Kovalchuk's contract, which had 12 years and $77 million remaining, is now void and all of the paperwork has been signed. That gives him a clear path to continue his hockey career in Russia.
When Lamoriello was asked if it was Kovalchuk's intention to return to the KHL following his retirement announcement, he simply said that he did not know.
Kovalchuk will be the biggest name in the NHL to bolt for Russia's professional league and the only top-line player to do so in the prime of his career other than Nashville Predators forward Alexander Radulov. Most of the players who head to Russia are at the tail end of their career (Sergei Fedorov, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Zubov, etc.).
There's no word yet on what sort of money he will get in the KHL, but it's a good bet he's going to make back most (if not all) of the $77 million he left on the table in New Jersey.