Ilya Kovalchuk Deal Rejected By the NHL: What Now?

Mark RitterSenior Writer IJuly 21, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - JULY 20: General Manager Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils speaks with the media during a press conference regarding Ilya Kovalchuk's contract renewal at the Prudential Center on July 20, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Just when you thought the Ilya Kovalchuk saga was over... here we go again!

With the 17-year, $102 million deal between the New Jersey Devils and unrestricted free agent superstar Ilya Kovalchuk being thrown in the toilet, many Devils fans are wondering what Kovalchuk’s future will be with the club.

It appears as if the NHL rejected the contract on the premise that the contract itself circumvents the NHL’s salary cap.

The NHL wasn’t buying that Kovalchuk had any intention of fulfilling the final years of his contract. Rather, the NHL felt that either the New Jersey Devils would buyout the highly talented Russian or Kovalchuk would opt to retire.

The NHL believes that the Devils and Kovalchuk had some sort of agreement in place. If not, the optics of the deal were so poor that it would be impossible to convince others that the two sides were not in collusion.

Kovalchuk’s contract was developed in such a way that the final five years of the deal would see Kovalchuk earn a pathetic $550,000 in each of those years, which pales in comparison to the $11.5 million Kovalchuk would make in each of the five years from 2012 through 2017.

Here is a closer look at the Kovalchuk deal, which was rejected by the NHL:

2010-11: $6 million
2011-12: $6 million
2012-13: $11.5 million
2013-14: $11.5 million
2014-15: $11.5 million
2015-16: $11.5 million
2016-17: $11.5 million
2017-18: $10.5 million
2018-19: $8.5 million
2019-20: $6.5 million
2020-21: $3.5 Million
2021-22: $750,000
2022-23: $550,000
2023-24: $550,000
2024-25: $550,000
2025-26: $550,000
2026-27: $550,000

Many reporters threw out articles today trashing the NHL for allowing the Kovalchuk deal, calling it a “mockery”, “a joke”, “laughable” and worse!

The fact is, after careful consideration, it appears as if NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has actually done the right thing by rejecting the Kovalchuk deal.

Hmm, who’da thunk Bettman would get it right?

Now, don’t get the wrong idea Devils fans.

While Kovalchuk is not currently under contract to the New Jersey Devils, the two sides can (and likely will) re-visit the deal, in hopes of coming to an agreement that the NHL, the New Jersey Devils, Ilya Kovalchuk and the Players Association will all be happy with.

With a little tweaking of the numbers and terms, this deal still has a very good chance of getting done.

Kovalchuk’s refusal to join the KHL—rumored to have offered Kovalchuk a deal in the $100 million range—sends a clear message that he wants to remain in the NHL.

Should the deal between the two sides not get resolved, Kovalchuk may be forced to look to the KHL or revisit contract negotiations with the Los Angeles Kings, who are said to have offered Kovalchuk a deal in the $80 million range.

What makes things even more confusing is the fact that, just a few months earlier, Kovalchuk rejected a twelve-year deal from the Atlanta Thrashers that would have seen him make over $100 million.

Kovalchuk’s first motivation is to play on a Stanley Cup contending team.

That is, a Stanley Cup contending team that is willing to set aside $100 million for his services.

Many NHL fans wonder why Gary Bettman and the NHL ever let things get so out of control. What of the Rick DiPietro deal? Mike Richards? Duncan Keith? Chris Pronger? Marian Hossa? Roberto Luongo? Henrik Zetterberg? Why didn’t the NHL step in on any of those deals?

And what gives the NHL the right to step in on the Kovalchuk deal with so many other NHL contracts already out there that are, in the eyes of many, just as laughable, just as unreasonable?

Tomorrow should be a very interesting day in NHL circles as fans and NHL officials alike wait patiently to hear Gary Bettman’s official reading of his and the NHL’s decision.

Better yet, what will the legendary Lou Lamoriello have to say? And what of Ilya Kovalchuk? What words of wisdom will he spew from his $100 million mouth?

Lamoriello, the Devils organization and Kovalchuk conspired to make a mockery out of the NHL and its salary cap.

Kudos to the NHL for calling a spade a spade and stopping the insanity before things got even worse.

Ok, so the NHL is a little late on this. As the saying goes, better late than never, right?

Stay tuned tomorrow... the Kovalchuk saga is alive and well!

Update: Here is the official announcement from NHL Deputy commissioner Bill Daly. (From

National Hockey League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly today issued the following statement regarding the free agent contract forward Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the New Jersey Devils: "The contract has been rejected by the League as a circumvention of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. 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. 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. The League will have no further comment on this matter pending further developments."


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