Ilya Kovalchuck made a commitment. In the summer of 2010, he committed to spending 15-years in New Jersey. He committed to being the face of a franchise. But just 3-years into that commitment, Kovalchuck retired. He bailed on the Devils, and the NHL.
Just days later, Kovalchuck signed a 4-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL where he will reportedly earn around $15 million per season. Kovalchuck will make approximately $60 million in those 4 years, just $17 million less than he would have made during the remaining 13 years if he stayed with the Devils.
Assuming he continues to produce and stays healthy when that contract is up, Kovalchuck will be in line to surpass the $77 million mark years faster than he would have in the NHL.
What a 13 month span it has been for Jersey’s team. In June of 2012, the future of the Devils franchise appeared to be set.
There was a core of Zach Parise, Kovalchuck, David Clarckson, Travis Zajac, and Adam Henrique to name a few. The team was playing for a championship, and was in the midst of getting rid of all of its debt.
Here’s Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek commenting on the Devils finances from a January 2013 AP article:
“Our future is now secure and we can be confident of continued on-ice success. Our team has gone to the Stanley Cup final five times in the last 17 years and following the most recent run to the final last year, we are excited about our future — for Jersey’s team and the Prudential Center, home to the 2013 NHL Draft.”
Just over a year later, everything has changed. Parise went home to Minnesota, Clarkson went home to Toronto, and Kovalchuck went home to Russia. The Devils are once again in financial struggles and are now severely lacking offensive firepower.
The only positive out of this is the Devils have tons of salary cap flexibility. The problem with that is Ilya Kovalchuck is a once in a generation player. A lethal combination of speed, power, and strength all combined into one. It’s almost impossible the Devils will get anything of equal value using the money they now have to sign new players.
Forward Ryan Clowe and Goalie Cory Schneider are nice additions, but won’t have remotely as much impact as Kovalchuck had on the ice.
Who’s to Blame:
There’s only one person to blame for this and his name is Gary Bettman, the great commissioner of the NHL.
Ilya Kovalchuck had gotten very used to playing and living in the United States. But another lockout that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman couldn’t stop, allowed Kovalchuck to go back to his homeland of Russia.
Here’s what Kovalchuck said when speaking to reporters in October 2012 about the lockout:
“For some reason, they’re still refusing to talk about the serious problems, but instead talk about some borderline issues. The main thing is that all the guys have now shown the team owners that they can go and play somewhere, do their favorite thing and not just stay home. If you stay home then you can start getting depressed and clearly the team owners are hoping for that, but I think that this time things will be a little different.”
Who wants to play in a league where lockouts are becoming common? You don’t get your money, and you don’t get to play.
With the lockout in full force, Kovalchuck signed on to play in Russia where talks of work stoppages and lockouts are non-existent.
Bettman is lucky that more big time international players didn’t bolt to go back home. Because there’s almost no incentive for these guys to play in America when they could be living and making just as much if not more money at home.
Kovalchuck recognized Bettman’s and the NHL owner’s strategy of getting the NHLPA to crack and take what the owners were offering.
Clearly, Gary Bettman doesn’t care about the players. He’ll continue to do the things that aren’t in the best interest of the league.
He’ll continue to leave more teams like the Devils hanging out to dry. And it has to stop, especially if he wants to keep the international stars here in America.