NEWARK, NEW JERSEY // Bill Daly, the NHL deputy commissioner, says Ilya Kovalchuk's 17-year, US$102 million (Dh374.6m) deal with the New Jersey Devils has been rejected by the league because it circumvents the salary cap in the collective bargaining agreement.
Daly said yesterday in a statement, posted on the league's official website, that the rejection of the contract sets up the possibility of several scenarios depending on how the players' association, player and club each decides to proceed. A source told the Associated Press that the contract was rejected because several years of low salary at the end of the deal were added for the sole purpose of lowering the cap hit.
The source said the league determined that neither the Devils nor Kovalchuk believe he will play the final years of the deal at those terms. The All-Star was believed to earn only $550,000 in each of the last five seasons of the contract that was to run through the 2026-27 season, when Kovalchuk will be 44. In the meantime, he said "the player is not entitled to play under the contract." A beaming Kovalchuk appeared before a news conference after receiving the longest deal in NHL history on Tuesday. But before the day was finished, the Russian was in limbo again.
Neither the Devils nor Jay Grossman, Kovalchuk's agent, commented after the contract was rejected. Kovalchuk was to earn $98.5m of the $102m in the first 11 years of the deal. Based on provisions in the collective bargaining agreement between the players' association and the league, the union has five business days after being informed that the contract was rejected to file a grievance on behalf of Kovalchuk.
The deal would remain voided if no grievance is filed or if an arbitrator agrees that the contract is illegal. The arbitrator would have 48 hours to decide if the league was right to reject the contract. If the arbitrator agrees, the contract would be voided, and Kovalchuk would again be an unrestricted free agent. Kovalchuk and the Devils both expressed relief earlier on Tuesday that negotiations were over and that his long-term hockey future would play out in New Jersey. Now there is no assurance he will ever play for the team again.
Kovalchuk finished last season with the Devils after being traded by the Atlanta Thrashers, who failed to sign him before he was set to hit the open market. Kovalchuk dismissed money as the main factor in his decision to stay with New Jersey. Kovalchuk instead cited long-term security for him and his family and the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup with a team that boasts three titles in the past 15 seasons.
Kovalchuk's contract would have topped the 15-year deal Rick DiPietro, the goaltender, got from the New York Islanders, and two-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin's 13-year pact with Washington. Kovalchuk was to earn $6m for each of the next two seasons, $11.5m for the following five seasons, $10.5m in the 2017/18 season, $8.5m for the 2018/19 season, $6.5m in 2019/20, $3.5m in 2020/21, $750,000 the following season, and $550,000 for the final five years of the unprecedented deal.
The Devils would have absorbed an annual salary-cap hit of $6m - the average amount per season. That number was brought down because of the extended years at low salary at the end. Whether he and the Devils can agree a new deal remains to be seen. The Los Angeles Kings and the Russian KHL were also interested in signing Kovalchuk before he reached agreement with the Devils two weeks into the free agent shopping season.