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NHL rejects Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract with the New Jersey Devils

The ink was barely dry on Ilya Kovalchuk’s new contract with the New Jersey Devils before the NHL rejected the 17-year, $102-million agreement, ruling the heavily front-loaded structure was an attempt to circumvent the salary cap and minimize its average annual value.

Kovalchuk, who was also pursued by the Kings, was the star of a news conference Tuesday in Newark where he signed his contract and declared himself “a Devil for life.” The 27-year-old left wing was to be paid $80 million through the first eight seasons and $95 million through the first 10 but only $550,000 in each of the last five seasons.

As first reported by Canada’s TSN.ca and later repeated by multiple news outlets, the deal brought down the wrath of a league that had done little but squirm when other teams structured lucrative, long-term contracts in that manner. The NHL had previously said it was investigating the Philadelphia Flyers’ seven-year, $34.45-millon deal with Chris Pronger, the Vancouver Canucks’ 12-year, $64-million deal with Roberto Luongo and the Chicago Blackhawks’ 12-year, $62.8-million contract with Marian Hossa but has not publicized its findings.

In those cases, each player’s compensation tails off dramatically as the contract progresses. But none declined so markedly as Kovalchuk’s deal, leading the NHL to intercede.

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The Devils can now restructure the contract and re-file it or the NHL Players’ Assn. can file a grievance against the league’s rejection. If that happens, an independent arbitrator would be chosen to decide whether the contract is valid as originally written.

helene.elliott@latimes.com


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