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Don Cherry on Ilya Kovalchuk: "He's laughing all the way to the bank."

Don Cherry spoke out about Ilya Kovalchuk leaving the NHL. Now hear this: Ilya Kovalchuk was Don Cherry's kind of Russian player ... to a point. (Leon T Switzer/ Icon SMI)

By Allan Muir

In the 24 hours since Ilya Kovalchuk dropped his "retirement" bombshell on the NHL, we've heard the reactions of everyone from basketball's Metta World Peace to Kovalchuk's own mother. But we haven't heard from hockey's eternal wellspring of hot sports opinions: Mr. Donald S. Cherry

Until now.

Hey, you didn't think he was saving these thoughts for Blue, didja?

Speaking to radio host Bryan Angus on Friday morning, Cherry seemed surprisingly subdued when the topic of Kovalchuk's departure was raised.

"Deep down, I think [the Devils] are happy because they [save] a ton of dough," Cherry said. "He was playing alright -- never would I say he was playing bad. And he was the one Russian I didn't mind because, remember when he chased Sean Avery in New York? I like him. But with that contract, they were expecting 40 or 50 goals a year, something like OV, eh? But they were getting 29, 30. I don't think they were too unhappy [to see him go].

Kovalchuk actually had 18 goals in 36 games last season and 37 in 77 the year before that, but he was on a roll ...

"Again, the Russians and the foreign people can have their cake and eat it, too," he said. "They don't like it here? 'Hey, I'll just...go back to the KHL and grab $77 million!' And hey, why shouldn't he? Hey, it's tax free! So right off the top he's saving 50 percent.

"So that's why a lot of people are afraid to draft Russians. They do what they want to do and we cater to them. I'm the only guy that says the truth. You know, they have their cake and eat it, too, and Kovalchuk is just laughing all the way to the bank."

Grapes also offered up another theory on why Kovalchuk might have been only too happy to head back to the big, soft ice of the KHL.

"Ya know, I watched him play in [the 2012 Stanley Cup Final] and I think that L.A. series had something to do with this, too," Cherry said. "L.A., probably my favorite team, they take no prisoners, eh? They were whackin' him pretty good and I thought, you know, this guy ... doesn't look like he's gonna hang around too long. Let's face it, it's the Ice Follies over there, [it's] war over here when the playoffs start."

"You're getting [millions] tax free over there ... In a sense, if you don't have any honor, it's a pretty good deal."

Photo gallery: Ilya Kovalchuk's NHL career

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