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Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk walks away from $77 million

07.12.13 at 1:03 pm ET

Ilya Kovalchuk‘s NHL career is over.

The Devils announced Thursday that their star left winger, who signed a 15-year, $100 million contract in 2010, called it quits after 11 seasons in the United States in favor of returning to his native Russia. By retiring from the NHL, Kovalchuk is turning down the remaining $77 million he was set to make through 2025, $44 million of which was guaranteed over the next four years.

“This decision was something I have thought about for a long time going back to the lockout and spending the year in Russia,” Kovalchuk said in a statement. “Though I decided to return this past season, [Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello] was aware of my desire to go back home and have my family there with me. The most difficult thing for me is to leave the New Jersey Devils.”

Lamoriello was short in his conference call Thursday.

“This wasn’t a decision made by the New Jersey Devils,” he said. “”I am never surprised about anything that happens in this game today.”

It is widely assumed Kovalchuk will resume his professional career in the KHL — the Kontinental Hockey League, Russia’s top league — where he played while the NHL was locked out before playing a shortened 2012-13 season. In 36 games for St. Petersburg SKA, he put up 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists).

Kovalchuk’s sudden exit ends his run of three-plus seasons in New Jersey. He finishes with 89 goals and 112 assists, and he had 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in the playoffs en route to the Devils’ trip to the 2012 Stanley Cup finals.

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