End near for Kovalchuk saga (Or is it?)

By 5 p.m. ET today we’ll finally have a verdict from the NHL regarding Ilya Kovalchuk’s latest contract. While the ruling will bring closure to this chapter of the seemingly endless saga of Kovalchuk’s free agency, the fallout will just be beginning.

If the contract is approved, it will start a chain reaction of roster moves so the Devils can shed approximately $3 million in salary cap space to get under the NHL’s $59.4M ceiling.

If the contract is denied, the NHL Players Association will have five days to -- again -- file for arbitration on behalf of Kovalchuk.

Should the deal be struck down a second time, Kovalchuk could also elect to play in his native Russia in the Kontinental Hockey League. That season starts Sept. 8 and he would not have to worry about contract disputes there. After all, the president of the team most likely to sign him (SKA St. Petersburg) is also the president of the league.

If Kovalchuk does go to the KHL, it’s been previously reported that he’d stay there for at least one season.

One other possibility today: The NHL could also choose not to observe the 5 p.m. deadline and let it pass without a decision, which would automatically register the contract under the CBA. Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record has reported the league will render a verdict, however.

Though the Devils have previously stated their confidence this contract will meet the league’s approval, Gulitti points out two potential sticking points:

“... the contract expires when Kovalchuk would be 42. The NHL pointed out in the grievance hearing on Kovalchuk’s first contract that only six players in the last 20 years played to the age of 42.

The other potential sticking point is the three consecutive seasons at $1 million in Years 11, 12 and 13. After that, Kovalchuk would make $7 million in the final two years of the contract—if he played it out until its end. But, those three consecutive seasons at $1 million create a clear transition point in the deal from the first 10 years to the last five.”

The average of those final years is still higher than other long-term contracts previously accepted by the NHL. Should the league void this contract offer, it may signal future problems for other teams with lengthy, low-cap-hit deals on the books, such as the Chicago Blackhawks and their pact with Marian Hossa.

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