Ilya Kovalchuk Retires: Is He Setting A Precedent?

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

How big of a deal is this whole Kovalchuk thing to the NHL?

- So, as you all know, Ilya Kovalchuk "retired" yesterday. I put quotation marks around "retired" because he actually retired from the NHL not from hockey. It's expected for Kovalchuk to announce his agreement to play for SKA in the KHL for upwards of $20-million a year. Yes, that's a lot of money.

- In the short term this move is a devastating blow to the New Jersey Devils. They lose their best offensive player (actually, the team's best player period) at the end of free agency. They lost Zach Parise last year, they lost David Clarkson this year and they didn't even use their 9th overall pick in a loaded draft on a forward. That last point is puzzling especially since some reports claim the Devils have known this was going to happen for weeks. Don't you think a forward would have been a better choice than a backup goaltender for this year?

- The long term outlook is much better for New Jersey here. According to some the Devils are in some deep debt, to the tune of over $300 million. That's a lot of money, and the $77-million they don't have to finish paying Kovalchuk helps there a lot.

- And that's about it for the good news when it comes to the Devils. This is even worse for them when you realize the Devils have to forfeit their 1st round pick next year as a punishment for trying to circumvent the salary cap in their attempt to re-sign Kovalchuk. That one is going to sting for a long time. It should also be noted that the Devils will most likely be very bad this year and that pick might have been better than this year's 9th overall selection they traded away. Also remember the Devils didn't give up their pick last year when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals and the pick was at the bottom of the first round. Not a good series of events for New Jersey.

- So what does this mean for the NHL? Nothing, actually. Sure, some guys might want to stay in the KHL longer because the league now has a shining star in his prime in Kovalchuk, but I doubt it goes much further than that. Guys want to play in the NHL for a reason. It's the best league in the world and the Stanley Cup is the best trophy in the world. Period.

- There are other reasons, too. In the KHL the difference between the rich and the poor are significant. But no matter who you play for the travel is grueling. We're talking three-week road trips, nine hours of travel for "close" away games and not the luxury and conditions of the NHL. You might find some Russians who want to stay in the KHL because it's home, but I doubt players from other countries feel the same draw to the league, regardless of what Kovalchuk did.

- I also don't think this "sets Russian players back 50 years" as an anonymous agent told Jesse Spector yesterday. There are many Russian players in the NHL who are happy to be in the NHL and have no desire to defect to the KHL. Do you think the Rangers are suddenly alarmed that Pavel Buchnevich (their 3rd round pick this year) is not going to come to New York at the end of his KHL contract because of Kovalchuk? Russian players always carry risk because of their home ties to the KHL, that risk isn't any bigger now. Not everyone is Kovalchuk. Not every player wants to play there during the prime of their career. Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin and others are still here. They're not going anywhere because Kovalchuk did. Kovalchuk left for money and to be closer to his family. His wife didn't like the United States, this has been going on for years. This is a singular incident in my eyes.

Anyway, thoughts on all this guys?

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