If there’s one news story that we were not expecting to see on a Thursday afternoon, it was the announcement of New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk to call it a career. The veteran announced that he would be hanging up the skates, with 12 years remaining on his contract with the Devils.
It’s obviously a shocking move. Fans and media had absolutely no indication that this was coming, though Kovalchuk did say in his formal announcement that this was something that he had considered during the lockout when he was playing in Russia, and had been discussed with the front office.
That doesn’t make it any less surprising. This is a potential Hall of Famer, who just turned 30 years old. He still had a lot of mileage left, despite dealing with a shoulder injury that limited him in 2013. Few players have been able to score at the rate that Kovy has over the course of his career.
He finishes his career with exactly 816 points in 816 games, with little doubt that he may have been among the all-time scoring leaders if he had continued playing. He was just one year removed from an 80-point season, the fifth such time he’s hit at least 80. He scored 50 goals twice in his career.
It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Kovalchuk head over to Russia and join up with a KHL team. It would obviously set off a lot of people around the league here, but given his statements about wanting his family in Russia, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him lace the skates back up over there. Simply a theory.
The bigger issue is where the Devils go from here. They’ve made some significant improvements to their roster this summer, but the departure of Kovalchuk, their top and most consistent offensive threat, is sure to set them back quite a ways. We’ll see how they plan to replace him, as well as what the future holds for Kovy.