NHL Rejects Record Contract With Kovalchuk

Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils poses for photographs following the media opportunity announcing his contract renewal at the Prudential Center on July 20, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.

NHL Commissioner Bill Daly has rejected a landmark, seventeen-year, $102 million contract with New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk.

In a statement posted on the NHL's website, Daly said the contract was illegal because it circumvented the league's salary cap. The rejection comes a day after Kovalchuk and the Devils agreed to what would have been the longest tenured contract in NHL history. The multi-million dollar deal would have kept Kovalchuk in New Jersey through the 2026-27 season, when he would be 44.

Daly said what happens next will depend on Kovalchuk, the team and the National Hockey League Players' Association, but that right now, he's "not entitled to play under the contract."

Rich Chere, a sports writer for the Star-Ledger, joined WNYC's Brian Zumhagen to talk about Kovalchuck, the contract, and what could happen next.

First, for those of us who don't follow hockey closely, what's Ilya Kovalchuk like as a player? What made him so desirable to the Devils?

The Devils need to draw fans--they have a relatively new building and they need to draw some fans. They play in a large market with the Rangers and Islanders, so they need to bring people into the building and he's one of the most exciting individual players in the league with his skating and shooting skills.

So Kovalchuk is a rising star, and in his short time with the Devils he's done well. But what was the thinking  behind a 17 year contract?

The length of the contract really was the way to fit Kovalchuk's salary under the NHL's salary cap. Teams have a little over $59 million to put their entire roster under the salary cap and by stretching it out, the Devils were able to drop the average, the annual salary cap hit, to $6 million for Kovalchuk, whereas normally it would've been more like $10 or $11 million, because the longer the contract, the lower the annual hit.

Kovalchuk would be 44 years old by the end of the contract. Could he play the whole time?

He could, but not likely. In the last few seasons we've had players playing a little longer. Last season, a defenseman, Chris Chelios, was still playing at 48. But that's really not the norm. The player who played to the oldest age for the Devils was a center by the name of Igor Larionov, who was just past his 43rd birthday, but he wasn't all that productive by that point. So it's not likely that Kovalchuk would have the motivation to play that long, even if he was still physically capable. Not after you've made $102 million on this contract alone.

There's word now that the National Hockey League is rejecting the deal. Why, and what are you hearing about this?

The league has rejected the contract because they feel the Devils circumvented the collective bargaining agreement that's in place now and they feel that in the final five seasons of this contract Kovalchuk will make barely over the minimum salary, he'll be earning $550 thousand. Now this is a guy who's going to make $11.5 million for the height of the contract and they feel like that was just to get around the rules and just to lower the salary cap hit, and therefore they've rejected it.

Have you heard reaction to this rejection from the Devils or from Kovalchuk himself?

The Devils now are in the process of having to rework the deal. They either have to rework it and refile it with the league hoping that the league will now pass it. Otherwise, the NHL Player's Association must file a grievance on the player's behalf within five days and then an arbitrator has 48 hours to rule whether it's a valid contract at which time Kovalchuk would become an unrestricted free agent again.