by Fitzgerald Cecilio
St. Petersburg, Russia
Four days after retiring from the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk has signed a four-year deal to play with St. Petersburg SKA in the Kontinental Hockey League, the team announced on its website Monday.
Kovalchuk recently retired from the NHL, leaving the New Jersey Devils despite having 12 years and $77 million remaining on his deal with the club.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but it was expected that St. Petersburg would give him a deal that would make him the KHL's highest-paid player.
The 30-year-old Kovalchuk played for St. Petersburg during the lockout, accumulating 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points in 36 games.
He returned to the Devils in January and was the club's second-leading scorer with 31 points in 37 games.
He also played a team-high 24:44 per game for the Devils, who missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs one year after reaching Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
A No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 NHL Draft, Kovalchuk managed 816 points in 816 NHL games.
He was traded to New Jersey in a blockbuster deal in 2010 before re-signing with the Devils that offseason.
Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk retires from NHL
The New Jersey Devils lost their main scorer when Ilya Kovalchuk opted to retire from the NHL. Kovalchuk, who scored 11 goals and added 20 assists in 37 games last season, will reportedly play for SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League next season.
"This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia," Kovalchuk said in a statement released by the team. "Though I decided to return this past season, Lou was aware of my desire to go back home and have my family there with me. The most difficult thing for me is to leave the New Jersey Devils, a great organization that I have a lot of respect for, and our fans that have been great to me."
Devils management indicated it wasn't completely surprised with Kovalchuk's decision.
"This goes back to the lockout, and prior to coming back, his thought process of staying in Russia was there," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a conference call Thursday. "As you know, he was here a little late [getting back after the lockout was lifted]. Then there was no conversation whatsoever throughout the year about it. Then it resurfaced and his desire was to retire from the NHL, and the only way he could do that was to sign his voluntary retirement papers, which he did."
Kovalchuk averaged a point per game, including 417 goals, in 816 career contests. He had 12 years remaining on a $77 million contract.
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"Days after NHL retirement, Ilya Kovalchuk signs with KHL team"