Dmitry Chesnokov wrote an article today entitled “Why Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t disrespect NJ Devils in leaving for KHL.” The premise of the article is that:

1. Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision to leave the Devils’ organization was not a rash one;
2. He came back to the NHL even after he was tempted to stay in the KHL during the lockout;
3. The Devils’ organization knew about Kovalchuk’s desires well before he made the decision to leave for the NHL; and
4. Kovalchuk kept this quiet to avoid media leaks until he was sure.

Therefore, the conclusion Dmitry reaches is:

Kovalchuk will go home and play in Russia. He will almost certainly captain the National Team in Sochi. He will do what’s best for himself and his family. It is his decision. And it should be respected, especially in light of how he handled his departure, from making his feelings known months ahead of the eventual departure.

I read the article during a lunch break. It percolated in my mind. There was something right with it and something else wrong. The article properly argues its premise…while, respectfully, missing the point.

First, let’s come to reasonable definitions. Ilya Kovalchuk’s departure from the NHL has been termed a “retirement” because that is what the termination of the contract demands pursuant to the CBA.

Kovalchuk’s decision is not one of retirement.

Ilya left the NHL to play for the KHL. He has not stopped playing professional hockey. He intends to continue to do so, while making large amounts of money and paying far less taxes. It is quite feasible and even probable that Ilya Kovalchuk will net more money in his pocket as a result of his departure to the KHL than he would have had he stayed in the NHL.

The reasonable definition of retirement is the cessation of one’s chosen profession due to age, infirmity or others personal to the retiree. While labeling Ilya’s decision as a “retirement” may make it palpable in headlines and soundbites, to the unfiltered and plain-spoken among us, it is nothing of the kind.

Second, the issue of respect between Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils’ organization is non sequitur.

The Devils are a business, one whose primary purpose is to make money.

They sell a commodity, in this case the sport of hockey, to its consumers, known as fans.

The Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk entered into a contract, initially in violation of the NHL’s CBA and ultimately in conformity therewith.

Just as they were free to negotiate a contract and its terms within the rules in an A to B relationship, they were free to terminate that contract in the same A to B relationship, also within the rules. In other words, to the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk, this was in its most fundamental state an employment contract, one that happens in different forms and monetary values millions of times per day throughout the business world. Whether an employer and employee relationship is formed or terminated is not one of respect. It is one of mutual agreement, meeting of the minds, words on paper, and a set of laws that govern its application and enforcement.

In short, respect is irrelevant to this business transaction.

But this was not a transaction that only affected an A and B. There is a C that was forgotten and one whose loyalty and love demands respect.

The New Jersey Devils hockey fan.

When Ilya Kovalchuk chose New Jersey, he did so with the representation that he wanted to play for the team, before the fans, and, presumptively, to help them achieve a stated goal – to win the Stanley Cup. The irony of the fact that our own hockey team denied them that privilege only a year ago, while I write this article, is not lost on me. I reserve the right to relish those moments at their expense.

If Ilya had played the rest of his career in New Jersey and never won a Cup, that would be okay. Many fail at that stated purpose.

If he had been injured and could not continue, such is life and hockey emulates life.

Had he been traded to play elsewhere, he would have been prevented from achieving the intended result in New Jersey and that too happens every season.

If a personal tragedy had prevented him from fulfilling his contract, we would all understand.

None of these acceptable justifications applied.

He chose to leave the fans for reasons personal to him and while Dmitry calls them “complex”, they can be summed up in four words – because he wanted to.

His selfish desire to leave for monetary, family, and/or personal reasons were disrespectful to the fan base that bought season tickets and spent their time and money in support of their team.

He abandoned them.

If you take everything Ilya Kovalchuk has said on face value, he did so by placing his excuses above them….

…and the New Jersey Devils organization let him do it by signing on the dotted line.