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updated: 1/13/2014 8:20 PM

Former NHL star has no regrets about walking away from millions

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  • Ilya Kovalchuk walked away from the New Jersey Devils -- and $77 million -- to play back home in Russia.

    Ilya Kovalchuk walked away from the New Jersey Devils -- and $77 million -- to play back home in Russia.
    Associated Press

Associated Press

Ilya Kovalchuk took his talents -- a rare blend of skill, speed and strength -- home to Russia last summer.

And it doesn't sound as if Kovalchuk has any regrets about his abrupt retirement from the NHL.

The 30-year-old Kovalchuk likes life in Russia, where he can spend more time with his family while playing for SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League.

"I'm really enjoying everything here," Kovalchuk said in a telephone interview after playing in Saturday's KHL All-Star game. "It's a great league. The game is different, but we are getting there. There are good players here for sure."

In any league, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound forward is one of the best. He hits, he's fast and he can handle the puck. Oh, he can score.

The New Jersey Devils know that now more than ever.

In the 10 years before he left, Kovalchuk had an NHL-high 388 goals and 765 points, trailing just Joe Thornton and Martin St. Louis, while with Atlanta and New Jersey. At the age of 20 with the Thrashers in his third year in the league, he scored a league-high 41 goals and at least matched that total in each of the next five seasons.

Yet the three-time All-Star walked away from $77 million and the 15-year contract he signed in 2010. The scrambling Devils signed 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr to fill in for their superstar. After talks with Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, Kovalchuk was at peace with giving up guaranteed annual salaries of at least $11 million this season and in each of the next three seasons.

"I talked to Lou for sure and it wasn't just one day," Kovalchuk recalled. "I appreciate the way he handled the situation and I'm excited it worked out for both sides."

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