Kovalchuk's next team remains unknown

NEWARK, N.J. — Ilya Kovalchuk's future is still as murky as when free agency opened July 1.

Wednesday, the wing's 17-year, $102 million contract with the Devils was officially rejected by the NHL, which ruled the longest deal in league history violated the salary cap.

Kovalchuk, 27, would be 44 when the contract expired but would get $98.5 million over its first 11 seasons.

His salary would start at $6 million, rise to $11.5 million then drop to $750,000 and to $550,000 for each of the final five years. By tacking on seasons of low salary at the end of the deal, when Kovalchuk would be well past his prime — if even still playing — the Devils lowered their salary cap hit (determined by average salary) to $6 million.

The players union, which can file a grievance, said it was "evaluating the options available."

If the union doesn't file a grievance or an arbitrator rules for the league, Kovalchuk will remain a free agent. He and the Devils also can reach a new deal, but Kovalchuk also can talk to other teams.

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, whom ESPN.com reported knew the deal would be rejected before the team's Tuesday news conference, said Wednesday: "The contract complies with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement."

Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, declined to comment.

Before the deal was voided, Lamoriello noted precedents:

• Marian Hossa's 12-year deal with Chicago ends when he's 42 and drops from $7.9 million to $750,000 in the final two seasons.

• Henrik Zetterberg's 12-year deal with Detroit ends when he's 40 and drops from $7.75 million to $1 million in the final two seasons.

• Chris Pronger's seven-year deal with Philadelphia ends when he's 42 and drops from $7.6 million to $525,000 in the final two seasons.

• Roberto Luongo's 12-year deal with Vancouver ends when he's 43 and gradually drops from $10 million to $1 million in the final two seasons.

Kovalchuk's contract, though, surpassed those in length and front-loaded money.

Kovalchuk has topped 40 goals each of the past six seasons. Atlanta dealt him to New Jersey in February after he rejected a 12-year, $101 million offer. He also talked with the Islanders, Kings and a Russian team.

Predators: An agreement was reached to buy the 26 percent stake in the team held by William Del Biaggio. The other owners will pay $15.2 million for the shares, which are worth $25 million but tied up in bankruptcy court. Del Biaggio is serving eight years in prison for fraud after bilking investors and banks out of money needed to fund his stake in the Predators.

Thrashers: The team won't pay Clarke MacArthur the $2.4 million an arbitrator awarded him. That makes the wing, 25, who had 16 goals and 19 assists last season, a free agent.

Around the league: The Sabres reached a deal with Patrick Kaleta, 24 (10 goals, five assists, 89 penalty minutes); the Blues with David Perron, 22 (20 goals, 27 assists); and the Senators with Nick Foligno, 22 (nine goals, 17 assists). The three, all wings, were restricted free agents. Foligno got $2.4 million over two years. Terms for the others weren't disclosed.

Kovalchuk's next team remains unknown 07/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 11:33pm]

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