THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEWARK, N.J. — The NHL has signed off on Ilya Kovalchuk’s latest contract with the New Jersey Devils.
Five weeks after rejecting the Russian’s landmark US$102-million, 17-year contract with the Devils, the league approved a revised $100-million, 15-year deal on Friday after reaching an agreement with the NHL Players’ Association on an amendment covering long-term contracts.
Jay Grossman, Kovalchuk’s agent, confirmed the agreement in an email to The Associated Press.
The NHL had rejected the Devils’ initial offer because it violated the league’s salary cap. An arbiter upheld that decision after the union filed a grievance.
As Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos first reported, the approved deal increases the average salary over the final three years to $2.6 million from the $550,000 average under the original deal that was rejected by the league in July. The breakdown of the accepted contract is: 2010-11: $6 million; 2011-12: $6 million; 2012-13: $11 million; 2013-14: $11.3 million; 2014-15: $11.3 million; 2015-16: $11.6 million; 2016-17: $11.8 million; 2017-18: $10 million; 2018-19: $7 million; 2019-20: $4 million; 2020-21: $1 million; 2021-22: $1 million; 2022-23: $1 million; 2023-24: $3 million; 2024-25: $4 million.
With 338 goals and 304 assists in 642 career games, Kovalchuk was the biggest prize on the NHL free agent market this season. The 27-year-old left wing had 41 goals and 44 assists in 2009-10, a season he split between Atlanta and the Devils, who acquired him in a multi-player deal in February.
The new deal will put a $6.67 million annual hit on the Devils’ salary cap and put the team roughly $3 million over the league limit ($59.4 million) with only 21 players under contract, two under the league limit.
With a full roster, Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello probably is going to have to clear about $5 million in cap space before the season starts on Oct. 8.
Arbitrator Richard Bloch had rejected the first contract because Kovalchuk was slated to earn only $550,000 in each of the last five seasons. It would have run through the 2026-27 season, when Kovalchuk will be 44.
The 15-year deal matches the length of one signed by New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro.
Kovalchuk went on the free agent market on July 1. He narrowed his final choices to the Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, the Devils and SKA St. Petersburg of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League before agreeing to stay in New Jersey, at least until the league objected and extended his job search for about six weeks.
Kovalchuk was supposed to be the last link in New Jersey’s push for a fourth Stanley Cup title since 1995. However, he could not prevent the team from being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Philadelphia.