Parise, current Devils shocked by Kovalchuk leaving

Thursday, 07.11.2013 / 11:29 PM

Zach Parise left the New Jersey Devils last summer to sign with the Minnesota Wild as a free agent. He expected former teammate Ilya Kovalchuk to stay with the Devils for at least a while longer.

Kovalchuk surprised the hockey world Thursday afternoon when the Devils announced his retirement from the NHL. The Russian had 12 years and $77 million remaining on the 15-year, $100 million contract he signed with New Jersey in September 2010.

"I was pretty shocked when I found out," Parise told "It always seemed to me that he really liked playing in New Jersey. It's too bad. The Devils are losing a great player."

Current Devils also were surprised by Kovalchuk's decision.

"It's definitely shocking, just from the standpoint that he's retiring from the League, especially at his age (30), and he's still able to play," captain Bryce Salvador told The Star-Ledger. "It's different when you have to retire when it's the end of the road and you can’t find anything else. This is a permanent decision.

"It's shocking because of his contract. He can't just change his mind next year or a couple of years after that."

Forward Patrik Elias signed a three-year contract last week to stay with the Devils, he thought alongside Kovalchuk.

"I've never seen anything like this in my 18 years here," Elias told The Star-Ledger. "No question it's going to affect the team. ...

“It's going to be an interesting time for management and the owners to figure out what to do without Kovy. We lost Zach last year. Now Kovy. Those are pretty big guys."

Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates, who was an assistant with the Devils in 2011-12, compared Kovalchuk's departure to LeBron James'.

"He's a superstar; it's kind of like when LeBron left Cleveland," Oates told the Washington Post. "It reversed two franchises that fast; it's a different sport, so it's not quite accurate."

Oates said he believed the Devils would be able to overcome it better than the Cleveland Cavaliers did when James left for the Miami Heat three years ago.

"[General manager] Lou Lamoriello is the type of man, he's dealt with adversity before," Oates said. "He'll get through it no question, but still it's arguably their best player they're missing right now."

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