ARLINGTON, Va – Ilya Kovalchuk’s retirement from the NHL this summer, forgoing $77 million by retiring just three years into a 15-year contract, rocked the New Jersey Devils franchise. But the salt in the wound for many fans, at least optically, was that the team chose Kovalchuk at the expense of homegrown star Zach Parise, who left in July 2012 to sign with the Minnesota Wild.
Parise’s departure was fueled by a desire to play in Minnesota, his home state. But there’s no question the Devils’ decision to trade for and then sign Kovalchuk disrupted everything from their budget to Parise’s position on the ice.
Did Parise take any pleasure in seeing the Devils lose Kovalchuk this summer?
“No, not at all,” said Parise, speaking at U.S. Olympic camp in Arlington, Va. on Monday. “And it’s not as if they … they didn’t kick me out and tell me, ‘You can’t be here because Kovy’s here.’”
Parise said he felt sympathy for the Devils.
“It’s too bad for the organization, because he’s a star player. And it’s too bad for the League because he’s a star player,” he said.
The assumption from many was that Kovalchuk would eventually leave for Russia during his 15-year deal, most likely around 2019 when Kovalchuk’s base salary dropped from $7 million to $4 million.
But Parise, who has a 13-year contract with the Wild, said he expected Kovalchuk to fulfill the deal.
“When someone signs a long-term deal like that, you assume he’s going to be there. I didn’t expect he’d leave at all,” he said.
“I was surprised. I didn’t see that coming. At all. Because I never got any inkling of that when I played with him, while I was there. Everything was fine.”
Kovalchuk’s time in the NHL had ended … at least for now. He told SovSport at a charity hockey game over the weekend that a return to the NHL, and the Stanley Cup Final, is in his plans.
“Money is not the most important thing. The motivation is only to win the Gagarin Cup. SKA has never done it, and I would like to be a pioneer in that. I didn't forget about the Stanley Cup. This goal still exists,” said Kovalchuk.
“I am only 30, and everything is still ahead of me. The next four years I will spend here, and then everything will depend on me."
Additional reporting by Dmitry Chesnokov