The answer is simple: more money. Just a few days after announcing his retirement from the NHL, Kovalchuk signed with the KHL team SKA St. Petersburg for four seasons. The contract: around $15 million per season. It then became very clear as to why Kovalchuk was willing to leave his guaranteed $44 million over the next four seasons on the table: He was going to be able to get $60 million overseas to play in a much less competitive, much less physical league in the KHL.
Of course, this makes sense for Kovalchuk. With his recent injury issues, it would make sense for him to want to go to a less physical league with less competition and more money. That, however, doesn’t take away from the fact that what Kovalchuk did to the Devils, and the NHL as a whole was wrong. He signed an excessively long-term deal with the team just three years ago, only to back out of it now. The Devils now have to pay a $300,000 penalty on their cap until 2024-2025, when the Kovalchuk contract is set to expire. Although that is not a great deal of money, it is enough to be a nuisance and remind the Devils that a player they expected to anchor their offense for years to come walked out on them to take the higher paycheck overseas.
The Devils cannot be that upset, though. In fact, they should have seen this coming. The career of an NHL player is always in question due to the physicality of the game and the career ending injuries that could occur at any moment. It was ridiculous to give Kovalchuk such a long contract in the first place, no matter how young he was. The NHL even put a stop to the first contract, which was set at 17 years, $102 million dollars because it violated the collective bargaining agreement. So the Devils decided to lower the years on the contract enough so that the NHL would approve the deal, but it still ended up biting them in the end.
Deals like these are why the NHL had a dispute that led to a lockout shortened season last year. Players wanted excessively long contracts that would have them playing until their late 30s early 40s, which is very rare for an NHL player to do, and have the money consistently drop year after year such that if they made it to the last few seasons of the contract their salaries would be ridiculously small. The NHL wanted to put a stop to this, which is why the current CBA only allows contracts for a certain number of years, so deals like the Kovalchuk one don’t happen again. At first it might’ve seemed as if the NHL was hindering the teams, but in fact they were helping them. They were also helping the players too, who now get fairer contracts with much more stable salaries throughout.
Kovalchuk’s greediness showed a few things. First, it showed that he was all about the money all along, and was totally fine with hurting the Devils for years to come for his own personal gain, but it showed much more than that. It showed the importance of the new CBA, and how limiting the amount of years that can be placed on a player’s new contract is actually a benefit to both the players and the teams. No more heavily front loaded deals, no more double-digit year contract extensions and more stability. Thanks, Kovalchuk.