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NEW YORK -- Could Ilya Kovalchuk be staying in Russia?
Multiple reports have speculated the 29-year-old is considering whether to stay in his native Russia rather than return to his NHL club, the New Jersey Devils, once the lockout ends.According to a Devils spokesperson, the team has "no reason" to think he isn't coming back. On Wednesday, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said the expectation is that Kovalchuk will be at training camp when it opens. "He'll be here," Lamoriello told ESPNNewYork.com after arriving in New York for the NHL's Board of Governors meeting.
A source had told ESPNNewYork.com that Kovalchuk and other Russian players expressed concern to the NHLPA on Friday about returning to North America, with escrow being the key issue. A part of NHL salaries are withheld throughout the season, and when accountants establish the final cut for owners and players, escrow checks are given to players.How escrow is handled and whether it is handled fairly was a big sticking point in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.
Kovalchuk is playing for SKA St. Petersburg of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
The NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement on Sunday, which led several players overseas to return in anticipation of training camps opening soon.
The NHL and KHL have an internal memorandum of agreement that all NHL players under contract who play overseas during the lockout must return once the lockout ends.
To that end, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he believes the KHL intends to hold up its end of the bargain.
"They have confirmed they will honor our agreement. Player will not be permitted to play once lockout is lifted," Daly said when reached via email.NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did not issue any threats when questioned Wednesday about the matter. "The NHL represents the highest level of hockey in the world," he said. "We expect that the best players will want to play here."
The International Ice Hockey Federation, hockey's international governing body, has jurisdiction to intervene on the matter, but would do so only if requested by the NHL.
"The IIHF would act only if the NHL asks us to act, upon the NHL presenting information about breach of contract," IIHF spokesman Szymon Szemberg said via email. "So far, the NHL has not contacted the IIHF in this matter."The board of governors ratified the tentative agreement reached Sunday between the NHL and NHLPA on Wednesday.
Kovalchuk is not the only player making news on this front. Monday, Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky released a statement that said he will remain in the KHL to play for Slovan Bratislava for family and personal reasons.
Kovalchuk certainly would be the highest profile player should he attempt to stay in Europe. The Devils inked Kovalchuk to a 15-year, $100 million contract in 2010 and could void the deal should he not report when camp opens.
His agent did not return phone calls seeking comment.