At least they thought they did.
After reviewing the contract, the NHL decided to reject it, claiming that the deal "circumvents the NHL's salary cap."
The NHL thinks that neither party in this deal expect Kovalchuk to play out the last seven years of his contract. They assume this because of the large drop in money he will earn after 10 years.
The deal would have seen Kovalchuk play with the Devils through the 2027-28 season, earning $95 million through the first 10 years, and $7 million during the last seven.
A deal offered by the Atlanta Thrashers earlier this summer would have seen him play only until the 2022-23 season.
Kovalchuk scored 41 goals and 44 assists last season. He has tallied 338 goals and 642 points in 621 career NHL games. He has been one of the most productive goal scorers in the NHL since the lockout, second to only Alexander Ovechkin.
This deal rejection brings up a controversial issue.
Might the NHL be considering imposing length and money restrictions in contracts?
It would stop wild contracts like this from being filed.
It would also keep teams from doing something they will regret later, such as the Islanders deal with Rick DiPietro. DiPi's contract is a 15 year, $67.5 million deal that Islander management have probably regretted since the day he suffered a season ending concussion in 2007.
That was only the beginning of a long string of injuries for the unlucky goaltender.
Of course, when Isles management inked him to that deal, they thought they were signing the goalie of their future.
In Kovalchuk's case, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello might have thought he signed the next face of the franchise, seeing as Martin Brodeur is sure to retire soon.
That contract has since been denied.
That may seem like a bad thing now, but what if Kovalchuk gets hurt? What if he can't adjust well enough to a relatively new environment?
After all, his point production dropped after he was traded to the Devils.
Should Lamoriello offer another enormous contract, maybe he should ponder this.
Could Kovalchuk be the next DiPietro?