NEW JERSEY – The speculation about Ilya Kovalchuk's future continued after the NHL rejected a 17-year deal with the New Jersey Devils reportedly worth $102 million.
Kovalchuk planned to stay with the New Jersey Devils, who acquired him in February from Atlanta. The deal came because Atlanta wasn’t willing to spend that much money on the Russian sniper despite eight years with the team.
According to media reports the 27-year-old signed a 17-year deal worth $102 million and peaking at an annual salary of $11.5m. If Kovalchuk played until the end of the contract, he would have earned $550,000 in each of the last five years and become a free agent at the age of 44. This lowered the average annual salary, and thus the cap hit, to $6m which was seen as a circumvention by the NHL and the primary ground for rejecting the contract.
The contract was rejected by the NHL on Wednesday. “Under the CBA, the contract rejection triggers a number of possible next steps that may be elected by any or each of the NHLPA, the Player and/or the Club,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly explained in a statement. “In the interim, the player is not entitled to play under the contract, nor is he entitled to any of the rights and benefits that are provided for thereunder.”
It would have been the second-largest NHL contract ever signed, just behind his countryman Alexander Ovechkin’s 13-year, $124m deal with Washington. It’s was also by far the biggest offer the Devils gave to a free agent, beating the $20.4m, six-year deal Dainius Zubrus accepted in 2007.
Kovalchuk also had offers from Los Angeles, the New York Islanders and SKA St. Petersburg.
Before the NHL rejected the contract, John MacLean said, “I have a smile on my face. We all know that, even looking at him on another team, that he’s an exceptional talent. […] I have not heard from anybody throughout the organization say a bad word about him. He’s a tremendous teammate and addition. He’ll have no issues playing for the team.
“He signed here for a reason, to try to win a championship. This organization has a good history of that, so you know he wants to be part of the team. That’s what I’m excited about. He adds a tremendous amount. As far as us being the team to beat, I think we’re going to be a very competitive team in this conference. But you say that now. There are a lot of things that have to fall into place as you go forward. I’m very confident with him in the lineup that we’re going to be one of the top teams.”
Since the Tver native transferred from Spartak Moscow to the NHL in 2001, he scored 338 career goals – the most in the NHL in that period. He scored 41 goals last year, completing his sixth straight 40-goal season in the league.
But, Kovalchuk didn't have success to the post season with Atlanta. He only made three playoff appearances in his career (two with Atlanta) with just 13 games. Kovalchuk was more successful on international ice when he represented Russia in three Olympics and seven World Championships.
He was the scoring leader with 12 points in the recent worlds in Germany where he earned the silver. He was also crucial in Russia’s gold medal wins in 2008 and 2009.
He was selected Most Valuable Player of the 2009 World Championship with 14 points (5+9) in nine games.