The Kings would again be interested in signing high-scoring winger Ilya Kovalchuk if the NHL’s rejection of his 17-year, $102-million contract with the New Jersey Devils stands and he becomes a free agent, a source familiar with the team’s thinking but not authorized to comment publicly said Wednesday.
Before the Kings can rekindle their dreams, a series of steps must be followed as a result of the NHL’s attempt to discourage teams from front-loading big contracts to minimize the charge against the salary cap and paying players past the point at which they could reasonably expect to be effective.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Wednesday that the contract was rejected because it was “a circumvention of the collective bargaining agreement.” Kovalchuk isn’t entitled to any rights or benefits from the contract while he, the Devils and the NHL Players Assn. ponder their options.
The union can file a grievance against the rejection but must do so before the close of business Monday. If it takes that step an arbitrator would hear each side’s argument -- but there is no arbitrator in place and the selection of that person could become a point of contention between the league and the union.
Should the arbitrator rule that the contract is valid, it would go into effect. A ruling that the contract circumvented the cap rules would make Kovalchuk an unrestricted free agent, allowing him to talk the Devils or other teams.
That would reopen the door to the Kings, who offered Kovalchuk $80 million over 15 years and structured the deal to avoid the drastic, late drop-off that has been incorporated in other lengthy deals and was taken to an extreme by the Devils.
The Devils’ offer would have paid Kovalchuk $95 million over the first 10 years and $7 million over the last seven years, including five final years at $550,000 each. The Kings used as models for the later years the $1.25-million salary earned by a 40-year-old Steve Yzerman in his final season and the two-year, $5.25-million contract that Teemu Selanne signed with the Ducks in 2008, when he was 38. A less steep decline toward the end might convince the NHL that the Kings were not making a mockery of the cap with those final years.