Ilya Kovalchuk announces retirement from the NHL

Ilya Kovalchuk has retired from the NHL. (USATSI)
Ilya Kovalchuk has retired from the NHL. (USATSI)

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New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL on Thursday afternoon, bringing his 11-year career to a sudden and shocking end at the age of 30.

General manager Lou Lamoriello announced the retirement in a team 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. "On behalf of the entire organization, I wish Ilya and his family all the best in their future endeavors.”

Kovalchuk also issued a brief statement.

“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. "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."

Just becauase Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL doesn't mean he's done playing hockey. The Devils terminated his contract and Kovalchuk is now a free agent and free to sign with whatever team he chooses in the KHL. He played during the lockout for SKA St. Petersburg and will likely return to that team. 

During his 11 years in the NHL, Kovalchuk was one of the most dominant offensive players in the league, scoring 417 goals to go with 399 assists with the Atlanta Thrashers and Devils.

New Jersey acquired Kovalchuk from the Thrashers before the 2010 trade deadline. After playing out the remainder of that season and the playoffs, the Devils attempted to re-sign Kovalchuk to a massive 17-year contract that the NHL considered to be an attempt to circumvent the league's salary cap.

The Devils re-worked that contract and signed him to his current 15-year, $100 million deal. It still has 12 years and $77 million remaining.

The organization was fined as a result of the initial contract and lost several draft picks, including a yet-to-be-surrendered first-round pick. As part of the punishment, the Devils had to surrender the first-round pick of their choice over the ensuing four years. It was assumed the Devils would surrender it in 2012 after going to the Stanley Cup Final and owning the No. 29 pick in the draft. They decided to keep that pick.

The Devils will be charged $250,000 against the NHL's salary cap each season through 2025 as per the league's CBA.

It's obviously a huge blow to the Devils on the ice as he was clearly their best player. Along with his great offensive skills, his game had really evolved on the defensive side in recent years -- to the point where he was a regular on the penalty kill.

In the past two offseasons, the Devils have lost three key components to their 2011-12 Stanley Cup Final team, watching as Zach Parise and David Clarkson left in free agency and now losing Kovalchuk to retirement.

CBS Sports Writer

Adam Gretz has been writing about the NHL and taking an analytical approach to the game since the start of the 2008 season. A member of the PHWA since 2015, he has spent more than three years covering... Full Bio

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