The NHL lockout claimed yet another victim today when forward Ilya Kovalchuk voluntarily retired from the National Hockey League to return home to Russia, presumably in the hopes of returning to play for his lockout team, the Kontinental Hockey League's SKA St. Petersburg franchise. The SKA part hasn't been worked out yet, but I think it's a formality at this point.
Had there not been a lockout, Kovalchuk wouldn't have had extended exposure to SKA and the KHL. It stands to reason that the 30-year-old scorer wouldn't have seriously considered walking away from $77 million of New Jersey Devils money over the next 12 years for whatever SKA offered him in terms of money and/or lifestyle. But there was, and he did. So I blame the lockout.
That sentiment is from the NHL fan in me. The Blue Jackets fan in me, however, is downright giddy on two levels.
First, the Devils are new divisional rivals of the Blue Jackets. Losing Kovalchuk clearly hurts New Jersey in the short term, and any disadvantage to New Jersey works out to an advantage for the CBJ. It's simple as that. I won't be crying for the Devils.
Less simple, however, is the fact that Kovalchuk and the Blue Jackets' Sergei Bobrovsky played together for SKA during the lockout. Bob was the best goaltender in the KHL while over there, piling up an 18-3-2 record in between the pipes. The timing of Kovalchuk's retirement is fortuitous; imagine of Kovy retired to leave for the KHL before Bob signed his new two-year contract! As bad as the KHL spectre (with their supposed $10 million annual contract offer) was during the negotiating period, can you imagine the level of recruiting pressure that would have come out of Russia if Kovalchuk had made his move?
It's not over on that front, not by a long shot. If you think that the KHL is going to stay quiet on Bob once his two-year contract expires, you're nuts. They - and Kovy - will be coming after him. Hard.
But Bob is ours in Columbus for now, and I plan on enjoying it...as long as he plays like he did toward the end of last season. And Kovalchuk can live it up as KHL MVP for the next decade.