SBD/July 12, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Ilya Kovalchuk Could Become Biggest Name To Leave NHL For KHL Opportunity

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Kovalchuk will walk away from $77M of his Devils deal with his retirement
There has been growing concern in the NHL over the past several years about the "possibility of top European players opting to remain or return overseas," and Devils RW Ilya Kovalchuk appears to be the "first elite talent to make the move," according to Katie Carrera of the WASHINGTON POST. Kovalchuk Thursday announced he was retiring from the NHL and "walking away" from $77M in future salary "that he was to receive over the final 12 years of his contract." Russian magazine Sovetsky Sport reported Kovalchuk will "play in the KHL for SKA St. Petersburg, where he played during the lockout" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 7/11). CBSSPORTS.com's Adam Gretz noted Kovalchuk will be the "biggest name in the NHL to bolt" for the KHL and the "only top-line player to do so in the prime of his career other than" Predators RW Alexander Radulov (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/11). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen writes Kovalchuk's "defection likely will affect young Russian players for years to come." Over the last few years, there "seems to be a growing reluctance to draft Russians, for fear that they will return home to play or will use the KHL for negotation leverage." Last month, Russian RW Valeri Nichushkin was drafted No. 10 overall by the Stars "when many scouts believed he had the talent to land in the top five" (USA TODAY, 7/12).

COLD WAR: In Toronto, Kevin McGran notes Kovalchuk has already signed his retirement papers, "exploiting a loophole that will prevent a KHL-NHL war, keep the 30-year-old Kovalchuk eligible to play in the Olympics and maybe even save the financially struggling New Jersey Devils a ton of money." Had he "bolted, the Devils simply could have suspended him, retaining his rights." Had he signed with a KHL team "while still under contract with the Devils it would have violated rules governing an agreement between the NHL and KHL not to poach each other’s players." It is a "coup for the KHL." Other big names have "played there, mostly through the lockout or because they didn’t have an NHL contract" (TORONTO STAR, 7/12). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in an e-mail wrote, "There would be no [contractual] conflict. (He’s) free to sign and play in another league" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 7/12).

DEVILS IN THE DETAILS: THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote under the header, "Kovalchuk Retirement A Little Too Convenient For All Involved." With "one stroke of the pen, Ilya Kovalchuk gets out of the last 12 years of his 15-year deal with the New Jersey Devils to go home and play in the KHL and the riddled-in-debt Devils break free from a burdensome contract they could neither afford to pay or buy out." Campbell: "And everyone seems to think this is just fine and dandy, that this is an acceptable way to do business. Well, OK. Carry on then" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 7/11). In Newark, Steve Politi writes this is "an absolute disaster." The Devils "went all-in on Kovalchuk when they acquired him" in a '10 trade with the Thrashers. They "gave up three players and their first-round pick in that draft to rent the high-scoring forward for the rest of the season." Then they signed Kovalchuk to "a massive contract as a free agent that offseason, essentially picking him over fan favorite Zach Parise as the face of the franchise." Meanwhile, the contract to Kovalchuk "so infuriated the NHL for circumventing the salary cap that the league docked the team a first-round draft pick" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 7/12).
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