NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - The NHL has rejected Russian winger Ilya Kovalchuk’s blockbuster $102 million, 17-year contract with New Jersey because it circumvents the league’s salary cap, U.S. and Canadian media reported late on Tuesday.
Kovalchuk, 27, was scheduled to earn $95 million over the first 10 years of the contract and then $7 million over the last seven. That would result in an annual salary of $6 million.
The high-scoring Kovalchuk, whose contract was officially announced at a news conference earlier on Tuesday, would be 44 when the deal expired.
“It constitutes a circumvention of the salary cap,” a source close to the contract told The Toronto Star (www.thestar.com).
NHL officials were not immediately available for comment.
Canada’s The Sports Network website (www.TSN.ca) reported the contract was rejected because the league did not believe Kovalchuk or New Jersey expected him to be playing in the deal’s final years, therefore artificially lowering the annual average value of the contract.
The team could either re-file the contract or the NHL Players’ Association could file a grievance, TSN said.
Should the Players’ Association file a grievance, the contract would be dead until an arbitrator determined otherwise, TSN said.
Kovalchuk had told a news conference earlier in the day that the chance to win a Stanley Cup was the reason he was staying with the Devils.
“From the playoffs last season, there is unfinished business,” he said at the Devils’ arena in Newark. “That was the biggest reason why I decided (to stay).”
The Devils won the Atlantic Division with the high-scoring Kovalchuk but were stunned by Stanley Cup finalists Philadelphia in the first round of the postseason.
Free agent Kovalchuk had been rumored to be going to the Los Angeles Kings but the lure of trying to add to the Devils’ three Stanley Cups was too much, he said.
“I have committed the rest of my career, 17 years, my number, to this team,” said Kovalchuk, who has scored at least 40 goals in each of the past six seasons.
He said he made the decision to re-sign on July 17, which was the anniversary of his father’s death.
“Seventeen has always been a lucky number for me,” Kovalchuk added.
The 17-year contract was the longest ever signed in the league, NHL.com reported.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford