Ilya Kovalchuk signed a four-year deal on Monday to play with St. Petersburg SKA in the Kontinental Hockey League.
The deal, announced on the team's website, comes four days after Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL, leaving the New Jersey Devils despite having 12 years and $77 million remaining on his deal with the club.
"The desire [to come to the KHL] first appeared during the lockout," Kovalchuk said during a question-and-answer feature that appeared on the Russian site sovsport.ru, according to a translation by NHL.com/ru writer Slava Malamud. "I liked everything. Saint Petersburg has a great infrastructure, great fans, competent management. I was pleasantly surprised. And when I came back to America, after the season was over, I took a firm position.
"We had a conversation with the New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello about letting me go, so I could come back to Russia. Some think that I only announced this a week before the free agency started, but it's not true. I have warned Lou a long time ago. And I am thankful to [Lou] for understanding. I think it's for the best for both sides. New Jersey has good young guys who can develop into good players in the future. As for me, I am returning home, where I will be enjoying hockey and getting ready for the season's top event -- the [Winter] Olympics in Sochi."
Kovalchuk, 30, played for the St. Petersburg during the lockout, accumulating 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points in 36 games. He returned to the Devils in January and was the club's second-leading scorer with 31 points in 37 games. He also played a team-high 24:44 per game for the Devils, who missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs one year after reaching Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"I am very happy to have played in the strongest league in the world for so long," he said. "Unfortunately, I haven't been able to win the Stanley Cup. I was close to this last year and saw how difficult it is to play in the NHL Playoffs. But there are no regrets. I am making a step forward in my career, opening a new page. I have a new goal and new opportunities... I am sure I have made the right decision."
In his NHL career, which began after he was selected No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 NHL Draft, Kovalchuk managed 816 points in 816 games. He was traded to New Jersey in a blockbuster deal in 2010.
"I am not leaving for the moon, for China or for Japan," Kovalchuk said when asked about the critics of his departure. "I am going home, where my sister, my mom and all my friends are living. I am much more comfortable in Russia."
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