NEW YORK -- On the heels of the league-imposed lockout that began Sunday, star sniper Ilya Kovalchuk is headed home to his native Russia to play hockey during the work stoppage.
The 29-year-old Devils winger will join SKA St. Petersburg, of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, his agent confirmed to ESPNewYork.com. He is not expected to begin playing until Sept. 23.
Kovalchuk, who led the Devils last season in scoring with 83 points (37 goals, 46 assists), is one of the head-liners of a group of players who have opted to play overseas during the lockout. Joining him in the KHL will be Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, Ottawa's Sergei Gonchar and Toronto's Nikolai Kulemin (Metallurg), Philadelphia's Ruslan Fedotenko (HC Donbass), and the New York Islanders' Lubomir Visnovsky (HC Slovan), among others.
Other players headed to Europe include Dallas' Jaromir Jagr, Montreal's Tomas Plekanec and Carolina's Jiri Tlusty in Kladno (Czech Republic). Mark Streit is headed to his native Switzerland to play with his hometown team in Bern, agent Pat Brisson confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com.
The standard contract signed in such cases includes an opt-out clause, meaning Kovalchuk and his fellow NHL'ers would be able to return home once the lockout ends. Kovalchuk's NHL contract, signed in 2010, is worth $100 million over 15 years.
As the flood of signings suggest, there is little optimism that the NHL season will begin on time with the league and union still trying to bridge a significant gulf while brokering a new deal.
The two sides remain far apart on the key economic issues and have not had formal discussions since trading proposals last Wednesday. There has been informal discussions between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special Counsel Steve Fehr since -- the two spoke over the phone Sunday evening -- but no formal meetings have been scheduled.
The two plan to speak again Tuesday evening, Daly told ESPNNewYork via email.