Ilya Kovalchuk will join SKA, could earn $20 million per season: Report

Ilya Kovalchuk left $77 million on the table with the New Jersey Devils when he retired from the NHL on Thursday to return to Russia.

According to Pavel Lysenkov of SovSport, Kovalchuk will be making that money up as the premiere star of the KHL – and in short order.

Lysenkov reports that Kovalchuk will be joining SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, the team for which he played during the NHL lockout. There’s where he will “become the most-paid player in the world,” according to SovSport.

How much? He speculates that if it was “a $15-20 million per year (at the taxation in 13%)” it would not be a surprise. (No word if that's on the KHL cap or some of it off the books.)

On top of that, Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov believes SKA could front-load the contract and pay Kovalchuk an enormous sum of money up front.

Keep in mind Alex Radulov – hardly the superstar Kovalchuk is – was making over $9 million per season with CSKA in the KHL.

Know this about Kovalchuk: His close friend is Roman Rotenberg, vice president of marketing at SKA St. Petersburg and the son of Boris Rotenberg, a friend of Vladamir Putin and a billionaire. The Rotenberg family recently bought Jokerit and Hartwall Arena in Finland.

So yeah, Kovy's getting paid.

Lysenkov writes that SKA wanted to announce the deal on Thursday, but the wheels didn't turn fast enough in the NHL for that to happen. SovSport was told back in January that SKA would do anything to bring Kovalchuk back to the KHL. There was even speculation that some Russian oligarchs were talking about buying a share in the Devils just to get Kovalchuk out of his deal and back in Russia.

Devils President Lou Lamoriello stressed that this was “not a decision” made by the Devils, but rather by the player.

The first time Kovalchuk presented the idea to the team was after the lockout ended – a lockout that saw Kovalchuk remain in Russia to play in the KHL All-Star Game. He hadn’t mentioned it again until recently, and then the retirement announcement happened on Thursday.

There were strong rumors that he intended to remain in Russia after the lockout ended.

S/T to Dmitry Chesnokov and Pavel Lysenkov for the info.