The 30-year-old Kovalchuk walked away from the $77 million that was left on the 15-year contract he signed with New Jersey in 2010, including guaranteed annual salaries of at least $11 million over the next four seasons.
The Devils announced the news Thursday afternoon, saying that Kovalchuk, who played for the Atlanta Thrashers early in his career, alerted Lou Lamoriello, the team’s president and general manager, earlier this year that he wanted to return home to Russia with his family after 11 seasons in the NHL.
“This wasn’t a decision made by the New Jersey Devils,” a testy Lamoriello said at the end of a conference call with reporters less than an hour after the retirement was announced.
Lamoriello refused to disclose anything about his conversations with Kovalchuk relating to the surprising retirement.
He also didn’t clarify whether Kovalchuk planned to play in Russia’s KHL next season – as is expected – or whether the Devils would retain his rights if he reconsidered his retirement, deferring to the NHL.
“All I know is that he will not be playing here at his desire,” said Lamoriello, who built the Devils’ three Stanley Cup championship teams and had hoped Kovalchuk would be the centerpiece of a fourth.
HURRICANES: Have agreed to terms with three players on one-year, two-way contracts.
The Hurricanes announced deals Thursday with right wing Aaron Palushaj, defenseman Michal Jordan and goalie Mike Murphy.
Palushaj will make $600,000 in the NHL or $175,000 in the minor leagues with a guarantee of at least $225,000.
Jordan will receive $550,000 with the Hurricanes or $125,000 in the minors with a guarantee of at least $150,000.
Murphy, who played one game with Charlotte of the AHL after spending most of last season in Russia, will make $550,000 with Carolina or $80,000 in the minors.
The 23-year-old Palushaj had two goals and seven assists in 25 games for Colorado.
Jordan made his NHL debut with Carolina last season and averaged 10:41 of ice time in five games.