When Ilya Kovalchuk took his talents — a rare blend of skill, speed and strength — home to Russia last summer, he walked away from $77 million and the 15-year NHL contract he signed in 2010.
He still doesn't regret his abrupt retirement from the National Hockey League.
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 with The Associated Press 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 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 two others points-wise, while with the Atlanta Thrashers 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 quit after talks with Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, and 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."
Lamoriello was testy when he discussed the news with reporters in July, saying "this wasn't a decision made by the New Jersey Devils."
Well, it has worked out for Kovalchuk. He is happy and has 36 points in 38 games for one of the KHL's best teams, a squad he played for during last year's NHL lockout.