Don Cherry vs. Ilya Kovalchuk: ‘If you don’t have any honor, it’s a pretty good deal’

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Some people have labeled Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision to leave the New Jersey Devils and the National Hockey League for SKA St. Petersburg and the Kontinental Hockey League as a “selfish” decision by Russian-born winger.

Selfish … European?


Grapes was on with Bryan Angus of Next Sport Star (where our bud Josh Rimer does his thing) on Friday and gave his two cents Canadian (0.192 cents American) on Kovalchuk leaving for the KHL.

“You know, I think deep down – I hate to say this – but deep down, I think they’re happy, the Devils that is, because they save a ton of dough,” said Cherry, echoing the silver lining cited by others.

But what about Kovalchuk on the ice? Said Cherry:

“Let’s face it, he was playing alright. He wasn’t playing bad. Never would I say he was playing bad, he was playing OK. And he was the one Russian I don’t mind because he chased Sean Avery in New York. He drops’em. I like him.

"But with that contract, they expected about 40 or 50 goals a year, something like OV, eh? And they didn’t. They were getting 29, 30. I don’t think they were too unhappy. It didn’t seem like they were too unhappy."

Well, they didn't exactly prevent him from leaving, that's for sure.

It should be noted that Kovalchuk scored 31 and 37 goals for the Devils, but did have the lowest goals-per-game average (0.30) of his NHL career in 2012-13. My, it was almost like something was weighing on his mind or something!

In classic Don Cherry fashion, he put Kovalchuk over as the one Russian he doesn’t mind and then, by the end of the conversation, he said he believed Kovalchuk didn’t have the spine for the NHL playoffs.

From Cherry:

“Ya know, I have to say something: I watched him play in that L.A. series [in 2012] and I think that L.A. series had something to do with this, too. L.A., probably my favorite team, they take no prisoners, eh? That’s what happened to them in the playoffs [this season], they just ran out of gas from hittin’ people so much.

“They were whackin’ [Kovalchuk] pretty good. And I thought, you know, this guy doesn’t look like he’s gonna hang around too long. Let’s face it, it’s the 'Ice Follies' over there, he’s gotta play in a war over here when the playoffs start. He’s getting $77 million tax free ... c’mon. You’d have to be a pretty stupid guy not to get it.

“In a sense, if you don’t have any honor, it’s a pretty good deal.”

Oh burrrrrrn.

If anything, Kovalchuk proved his toughness during that playoff run, playing through injuries before they finally caught up with him in the final round.

The idea that Kovalchuk lost his will to play because of the Los Angeles Kings is a stretch, considering he was a pinball in series against the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers as well. But there’s no disputing the core of what Cherry’s saying here: Having watched KHL hockey before, it has the physicality of an NHL neutral site exhibition game. Kovalchuk could play 25 minutes without so much as getting a hang nail. Whether that factored into it, who knows? But that's the difference between the leagues.

Did Don Cherry have anything to say about the “Russian factor” this voluntary retirement would seem to play into?

Of course he did, and it was deliciously caustic.

Said Cherry on Russians:

“Again, the Russians and the foreign people can have their cake and eat it, too. They don’t like it here? ‘Hey, I’ll just go back to the KHL and grab $77 million tax free!’ Why shouldn’t he? They get tax-free! So right off the top he’s gaining 50 percent, right off the top.

“So that’s why a lot of people are afraid to draft Russians. They do what they want to do and we cater to them. I’m the only guy that says the truth. Same thing as junior hockey: We bring them over here, it costs us $3,000, our poor kids are getting peanuts, and the buggers want to go back at Christmas, too. They have their cake and eat it, too, and Kovalchuk is just laughing all the way to the bank.”

Cake, $3,000 and Christmas breaks? Where do we sign up for that?!

Here’s the full interview: