After Ilya Kovalchuk’s Russia-based agent hinted that a deadline was looming and his client might take his talents to the Kontinental Hockey League, the Devils have submitted a new contract to the NHL. The league now has five days to review the pact and issue a ruling on whether or not they will accept it, which means a verdict will be issued before the end of Sept. 1.
If the league rejects the contract -- and if Kovalchuk is serious about spending the season in Mother Russia -- the window for further negotiations with the Devils will be small. The KHL season begins Sept. 8.
However, the Devils and the league have been in contact throughout the week regarding an acceptable contract structure. Presumably both the Devils and Kovalchuk’s representation would have had a pretty good idea how the NHL would react before the latest contract was submitted Friday. The Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti is reporting the proposal was not pre-approved by the league, however.
TSN’s Darren Dreger tweeted that the contract is believed to endure for fewer years and have a more balanced distribution of salary. He also noted that the deal is rumored to be for 15 years and $100 million, placing the cap hit at an oh-so-apt $6.66 million for the Devils.
If those terms are correct -- and the NHL approves -- that places the Devils about $3.07M over the cap for next season, according to CapGeek.com. If so, then New Jersey will have to do a bit of juggling to free up enough space, and may have to dump multiple players to accommodate Kovalchuk’s cap hit.
Previous speculation placed Bryce Salvador, Dainius Zubrus and even captain Jamie Langenbrunner in peril of being pushed out the door. However, only Zubrus carries a cap hit over the needed $3.07M ($3.4M for the next three seasons). That duration, his age (32) and middling production (.48 points per game over the last three seasons) will also make him hard to move.
It seems more likely the Devils will try to divest themselves of multiple contracts. Aside from Zubrus the only players that would clear enough cap space by themselves are Martin Brodeur ($5.2M), Patrik Elias ($6M), Brian Rolston ($5.06M), Travis Zajac ($3.89M) and Zach Parise ($3.13M). And obviously the recently-acquired Jason Arnott, Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov aren’t going anywhere.
Perhaps the Devils will follow the plan of the Chicago Blackhawks, who alleviated their cap crunch by loaning G Crisotbal Huet to a team in Switzerland. The NHL is on the record as stating such a move is permissible (scroll down), calling it “cap maintenance.” If GM Lou Lamoriello can convince Zubrus to take a year-long sabbatical to Europe, that could solve the problem.
Where the contract leaves the team for 2011-12, when Parise is up for a new contract, is another issue. The Devils are already on the hook for $41.8M. Add Kovalchuk's $6.66M hit and that leaves just $11M for a Parise raise and about 10 more empty roster spots, if the cap ceiling remains at $59.4M. If Parise's extension matches that of Chicago's Patrick Kane ($6.3M) that leaves the Devs with just $5.3M remaining. Good news if you're a recent Devils draft pick, I guess.