In a surprising move New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL today.
Kovalchuk was under contract through 2025. In 2010 he entered a 15-year, $100 million deal, and as a healthy 30-year-old he will walk away from $77 million for what will likely be a return to the Russia’s premier league, the Kontinental Hockey League.
The Kovalchuk contract is the product of a failed attempt to exploit a loophole. Originally the two sides agreed to a preposterous 17-year, front loaded deal meant to game the salary cap. This resulted in the NHL fining the Devils $3 million, taking away their third-round draft pick in 2011, and a first-round draft pick in the year of their choice from 2011-2014.
Even in its moderate realisation, the Kovalchuk contract was smart and exploitative. He would have made as much as $11,800,000 in 2017 and $1,000,000 in 2020.
The threat of the KHL trumping the NHL as the world’s premier hockey league has been going on for years. After an outstanding playoffs which cleared the sour taste of the lockout, the league cannot be happy about a major player’s exodus when he is still effective and under contract.
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