Kovalchuk’s mother: Escrow, taxes led to son’s ‘civilized’ departure from NHL

Ilya Kovalchuk “retired” from the NHL Thursday – the news that shook the entire hockey world. SKA St. Petersburg, the KHL club Kovalchuk played for during this last NHL lockout, was expected to make a “big announcement” on Thursday. But didn’t. It is now obvious what that announcement was going to be – Kovalchuk was going to sign with the club. The champagne will be kept on ice at least until Monday, it appears. SKA promptly denied reports that Kovalchuk may have signed a contract with the team before he returned to the NHL in January.

Kovalchuk is still in the United States with his family, while SKA players reported to the club for medicals yesterday. Players will start skating on July 15 with training camp starting July 22 in Switzerland. That may be the day Kovalchuk will actually join the team, although according to his mother (see below) Ilya won’t come to Russia until August 1. No official announcement has been made, although some SKA players, including goaltender Ilya Ezhov, acknowledged hearing about the move during their medicals.

Neither Kovalchuk, nor his agents have made any official statements, other than the one announced by the New Jersey Devils yesterday. However, SovSport’s Pavel Lysenkov spoke with Kovalchuk’s mother (she’s always been very open with the media, confirming the 17-year “original” contract Kovalchuk signed with the Devils), who shed some light on the situation. She was not surprised of the developments at all, saying, “I knew about it, to be honest. Of course Ilya discussed this matter with me. It was back in January when my son was thinking about staying with SKA. But he went back to New Jersey to finish the season. Everything had to be done in a civilized manner; all legal questions must have been resolved.”

Here are some more quotes from that conversation:

Ilya Kovalchuk had another dilemma in 2010 – to sign with the Devils for $100 million or to go back to Russia. Back then as a mother you unequivocally stood in favor of America. Why has your opinion changed?

“Maybe it didn’t change. But Ilya is a grown up man. He is responsible not only for himself, but for a big family. He made the decision. And I will support him either way. This is not a cliché, this is a fact.”

Did he like SKA during the lockout?

“Of course. Otherwise this question about leaving the NHL wouldn’t even be raised. And so it happened… Besides, there were some problems in New Jersey. You know there will likely be a change of ownership there. It’s unclear how everything will turn out.”

Is it true his salary was delayed by the Devils? [ed.: The question is unclear as it may be interpreted a number of ways]

“Yes, it happened. Now, after the lockout, there are a lot of restrictions at all teams. They are also underpaid 20% [of their salary]. The League takes it as an escrow that may not be paid back if the NHL does not make profit. And then there’s government tax of 50%. That means on paper you are being paid $10 million a year, but in reality only 3. So the pendulum swung for Russia."

Have you read the reaction of Jeremy Roenick who said Ilya stole $23 million from the Devils?

“Thank God I didn’t see that! I am [on vacation] right now. But I think my son earned everything he’s been paid by the Devils in full! He played 30 minutes per game, sacrificed his health, and made it to the Cup Finals. He didn’t steal anything. He earned every cent. The things [Roenick said] may only be said due to helplessness.”

Another thing that shocked North American journalists is that Kovalchuk walked away from $77 million that were guaranteed to him. He had one of the best contracts in history of the NHL, and terminated it!

“The financial side is important. We like to discuss that everything is done because of money. But this is not the main reason, that you can believe. Although I think that my son will come to the KHL not to his [financial] detriment. But I don’t know all of the details, sorry.”

Did you talk to Ilya last night?

“Yes, of course. Right before he talked with the Devils general manager. He said ‘That’s it, the matter is closed. There is no way back.’ It was probably a difficult emotional decision. But this is what my son wanted very much.”

Are you happy as a mother? Now you will be able to see Ilya more often. It’s only a few hours from St. Petersburg to Tver.

“It is a huge advantage. I will be able not only to see my son, but my grandchildren. Yes, we’ll have to figure out some issues – his daughter is already in school. But that’s OK, there is an American school in St. Petersburg. I hope that everything goes smoothly, and we will overcome all the difficulties.”