Ilya Kovalchuk signs deal in Russia

Updated: July 15, 2013, 4:35 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MOSCOW -- Russian team SKA St. Petersburg says it has signed forward Ilya Kovalchuk to a four-year contract.

Last week, Kovalchuk walked away from $77 million left on his 15-year contract with the New Jersey Devils.

SKA, a Kontinental Hockey League team, did not disclose the terms of the deal with Kovalchuk in its statement Monday. SKA president Gennady Timchenko described the 30-year-old Kovalchuk as a "real leader."

While caught off guard by Kovalchuk's decision to retire, Devils coach Pete DeBoer said his team's job this season is to prove doubters wrong.

Speaking between sessions of a rookie camp, DeBoer said the loss of the 30-year-old Kovalchuk leaves big holes on the team's top line and specialty teams, and it will create playing time others will have to fill.

"We have to. That's the bottom line," DeBoer said Monday. "There's no 'What can you do?' We're going to have to find a way. That's going to be the mantra. The league is not going to stand still. I think I've used that phrase before.

"No one is going to feel sorry for you, the New Jersey Devils. When the puck drops in October, we've got to be ready to compete with the guys we've got, and we've got a good group of people here."

Kovalchuk scored 417 goals and added 399 assists in 816 NHL games. His best seasons were in 2005-06 and 2007-08 when he scored a career-high 52 goals. He had three other 40-goal seasons.

Kovalchuk has represented Russia at three Winter Olympics, nine world championships, one world junior championship and the 2004 World Cup. He played with SKA St. Petersburg during the recent lockout.

The Devils' future doesn't look bright without Kovalchuk, whose defection came a year after Zach Parise signed with Minnesota as a free agent.

"Sure it's different," said DeBoer, who said he needed a day to catch his breath after Kovalchuk's retirement from the NHL was announced on Thursday. "You take out a Parise, you take out a Kovalchuk, those are players that single-handedly can do some things that only a handful of players in the world can do. So we're going to have to be a different team and have to play more of a team game."

DeBoer knew during the season that Kovalchuk was interested in returning to Russia, but he didn't expect a final decision last week. While obviously disappointed, the coach wasn't angry with Kovalchuk for leaving the team without its best player.

"I don't feel that way," DeBoer said. "Maybe I should, but I don't. I enjoyed working with him. He was a good pro. He was a good teammate in the dressing room and he'll be missed. That's my feelings on it. I don't go any deeper than that. Everybody has a personal life and personal decisions regarding their careers, and it's not my place to be stepping into those."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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