Apparently 27-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk playing in the NHL for the next 17 years isn’t as believable as the as the New Jersey Devils thought. According to sources from ESPN.com Kovalchuk’s deal has been rejected by the NHL. The 17 year $102 million deal is a front-loaded contract that would pay the Russian superstar $95 million over his first 10 seasons with the team. With only $7 million being paid to the winger over the final seven years of his contract it is not unlikely that Kovalchuk could retire and collect on the final years of his contract without having to play. The final seven years of the contract also lower the cap hit to $6 million per year meaning that the Devils would have plenty of room to sign big free agents with Kovalchuk still under contract. Also, thanks to the current collective bargaining agreement a player who signs a contract before the age of 35 can retire at any point after 35 and have their full salary paid to them free of any cap hit. That final piece of the puzzle made the deal perfect. Kovalchuk was due to make $102 million and free to retire at any age while the Devils would only suffer a $6 million yearly cap hit.
Now that the NHL has rejected the contract the NHLPA will most likely step in causing the dispute to be settled by and arbitrator. Based on the fact that there is no player in the NHL currently 44-years-old or older it would be a miracle if the contract stands up. However, the Devils are not the first club to circumvent the salary cap. Both the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks were investigated last season for their front-loaded contracts to Chris Pronger and Marian Hossa. Ultimately both teams were cleared because there was no proof that either player planned on retiring before their contracts expire–i’m assuming the thought process was that they are just going to attach stick blades to the bottom of their walkers. It seems awfully shady that the two previous teams who tried this both won their conferences this year. I suspect that once this deal is rejected the NHL will try to install some sort of program to either stop this from happening or a to enforce a stricter penalty when it does happen. I still expect to see Kovalchuk play the Penguins six times next year though. If he were going to accept a KHL deal he would have done it already and the Kings have tried without success to acquire him multiple times since the trade deadline. Once again the Atlantic division is the strongest in the NHL.