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Alex Kovalev isn’t surprised by Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision

Jul 15, 2013, 10:33 AM EDT

kovalevasapanther Getty Images

Alex Kovalev didn’t exactly volunteer to end his NHL career and move on to play in Europe, but he told the Montreal Gazette that he isn’t surprised that Ilya Kovalchuk made such a choice.

“Hockey in Russia has become much better,” Kovalev said. “There are a lot of European players who go and play there, and the KHL wants to bring good hockey back. They’ll do whatever it takes.”

“They’ll try to bring a lot of NHL players to the KHL. There are a lot of factors that can attract them: money, the game, a lot of new arenas, everything’s going in the right direction. And for Russian players, they can make more money at home and not pay the high taxes they do in North America.”

Kovalev still holds some hard feelings about the way things ended with the Florida Panthers and also didn’t seem to happy with the direction the Russian Olympic team seems to be headed in 2014.

While he spoke of being more motivated than ever to hit the gym (and shoot for a stated goal of playing hockey until he’s 50), the 40-year-old seems a little jaded about the sport.

“It feels that people don’t care about the hockey anymore,” Kovalev said about the way things ended with Florida. “It’s just a business — trying to save money and free up cap space for young guys.”

Perhaps that’s why he barely shrugs his shoulder at a decision that shocked so much of the hockey world.

  1. joey4id - Jul 15, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    The decision by Kovalchuk could mark the beginning of an exodus of many EU players. This could be the Bobby Hull like move that opened the gates for so many other NHLers to join the now defunct WHA. NHL and owners should be concerned about seeing their product dilluted over the course of the next 10 to 20 years of they don’t make the necessary adjustments.

    • barkar942 - Jul 15, 2013 at 11:09 AM

      Hey- wouldn’t it be great if the two leagues merged and it could be called the WHA!

    • hockey412 - Jul 15, 2013 at 12:17 PM

      I really don’t think that will happen. There’s only so much money in any league, and basically what the KHL is doing is paying everything they have for a few big names. Is that sustainable, though, through ticket prices and consessions? Doubt it. These guys in Russia are tycoons, but if you own a business that is losing money eventually you’ll cut ties.

      It’s also not somewhere that every player WANTS to play, if they aren’t from Russia. I’ve read articles about the strong-arm tactics the Russian owners tried to use with Malkin’s family to get him to stay there….doesn’t sound like somewhere I’d want my family to be…even with Russian pride being what it is.

      They may lose a few big names, and really I worry more about the young players that can make a little more to be stars there than come here and play in the AHL, but I don’t think the KHL will significantly dilute the NHL’s talent.

    • hockeyflow33 - Jul 15, 2013 at 5:07 PM

      Playing in Europe teaches you that many leagues, even the KHL, do not always honor your contract if you’re a foreigner.

  2. jcmeyer10 - Jul 15, 2013 at 11:01 AM

    In a totally unrelated note, Ilya Kovalchuk’s family has returned safely from their unplanned vacation.

  3. lostpuppysyndrome - Jul 15, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    I’m not sure why it’s a surprise to anyone that this is a business. It’s always been a business. Yes, it sucks at times, but it’s also been a great benefit to the game. It’s a rare person who thinks that adding the salary cap and the subsequent increase in parity hasn’t been for the best.

    Those worried about a talent exodus to the Motherland needn’t be too concerned. I understand why Russians want to play in Russia, just like Canucks and Yanks want to play in North America. I’m sure Finns, Czechs, and Swedes would love to play in their homelands if they had a comparable league to play in. And that giant hole of skill and ability that Kovy left? He also left a giant hole of salary space that Lou can use down the road, and he’s obviously not afraid to open up his wallet. Things will work themselves out. And hey, even if they don’t, you can always shoot for Connor McDavid!

    • jcmeyer10 - Jul 15, 2013 at 11:48 AM

      Exactly. If the NHL does it, it’s business. If the player does it, it’s personal and an offense. I’ll admit the timing was crummy from Kovalchuk, but it’s not like teams don’t leave players high and dry in terms of finding the best landing spot.

    • lostpuppysyndrome - Jul 15, 2013 at 11:51 AM

      Correction: not *his* wallet, but Vanderbeek’s.

  4. brockohol - Jul 15, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    us players have filled the gap of the diminishing number of Russians. I don’t think it hurts the level of play because you could realistically but 3 full canadian squads and 2 us squads in the olympics and they would be as good or better than any other. can’t say the same for ruasia or euro countries.

    don’t think it will hurt ratings in north am either. one of the big complaints is that non die hards don’t have guys they know or have heard of to root for. the typical hockey fan in texas or california is more likelt to root for a kid who grew up in dallas or st. louis or anaheim…than some dude from russia who scored 7 goals in 60KHL games the yr before

    • babykaby - Jul 16, 2013 at 7:47 AM

      You really are dellusional. Some of the very best hockey players now, and in years gone by, have come from Russia. If the NHL loses more and more russian players, it’s a guarantee a number of other Europeans will jump ship too and just sign in the KHL. Why not, lower taxes, closer to home, and some of the best players. Once again America is showing its arrogance in believing everyone wants to be here. That, my friends, may not be so true anymore.

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