Former New Jersey Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk shocked the hockey world last month when he retired from the NHL at just 30 years of age. Days later, he bolted back to his home country of Russia, signing a monster contract with the KHL.
While the Devils were left picking up the pieces after their superstar left them in the dust, fans and media alike began wondering if this would signal an exodus.
Sure, it wouldn’t be a big deal if some fourth-line center fled across the globe, but Kovalchuk is a superstar, and the money he’s going to make in Russia could fund a university. There would be plenty of reason to believe he may soon have more of his fellow countrymen fleeing the NHL to collect their rubles.
However, if you ask Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, he’d tell you not to worry about anything. In an interview with Russian news source RIA Novosti, Malkin claimed he doubts a lot of Russian players will be following Kovalchuk back home.
“Ilya’s chosen this path, and I’ve got no right to judge him,” Malkin said. “They’re saying that this will become a trend, but it’s really an exception to the rule.”
Malkin, like Kovalchuk, is one of the best Russian players there is. Sure, the Penguins have megastar Sidney Crosby on board. Could they survive without Malkin? Perhaps, but there’s also a big difference between surviving in this league and dominating. With Malkin and Crosby, the Penguins dominate.
Because of his new contract, which gives him $76 million over the next eight years, Malkin just doesn’t see any reason why he’d want to bail on the NHL.
“A lot can happen, but as long as I feel comfortable in America I might as well leave well enough alone,” he said. “I’ve won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins, I’ve got individual awards, I get a lot of playing time, I have an excellent relationship with my teammates and coaches.”
“Why would I look for something else? I have everything.”
Malkin is just one voice, but he’s a big one. He could be dead wrong in his assumption that Kovalchuk is by himself on this one. However, when a talent like Malkin speaks highly about staying in North America, a lot of players will be listening.