Kovalchuk has signed a 17-year, $102 million deal, ending a three-week courtship that included offers from the Los Angeles Kings. He was also pursued by the New York Islanders and SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL.
The Devils will absorb an annual salary cap hit of $6 million -- the average amount per season. However, Kovalchuk will remain on the books through the 2026-27 season.
Kovalchuk will earn $6 million each of the next two seasons, $11.5 million for the following five seasons, $10.5 million in the 2017-18 season, $8.5 million for the 2018-19 season, $6.5 million in 2019-20, $3.5 million in 2020-21, $750,000 the following season and $550,000 for the final five years of the unprecedented deal.
Should Kovalchuk play until the end of the deal, when he'll be 44, a source clarified to ESPN.com's Scott Burnside that the forward will have earned more than $150 million as an NHL player, including his time with the Atlanta Thrashers.
"This was a long, arduous process that has taken frankly a little longer than I thought," agent Jay Grossman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "But you know what, nothing is worth anything unless you work for it. I can tell you he is very happy to be with the New Jersey Devils."
Kovalchuk rejected a 12-year, $101 million contract extension with Atlanta earlier this year, before the Thrashers traded him to New Jersey.
The nature of longer-term deals makes it easier for a team to fit star players under the salary cap. Most of these types of deals are front-loaded, with the bulk of the salary being paid out long before the contract expires.
Last offseason's star free agent Marian Hossa, for example, signed a 12-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks before the start of the 2009-10 season. Hossa made $7.9 million this past season and will continue to take in that same annual salary for the next six years of the deal. However, for the 2016-17 season, his salary will drop to $4 million. In 2017-18 and 2018-19, Hossa will make $1 million, and in the final two years of the deal, he will make just $750,000 each year.
Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, and coach John MacLean didn't immediately return telephone messages from The AP seeking comment. The team said it would have media availability with Kovalchuk on Tuesday.
Grossman refused to say Kovalchuk decided to stay because he felt the Devils had a better chance to win the Stanley Cup.
"This was so far complex that I don't want to get into those questions," Grossman said. "Obviously his goal is to win the Stanley Cup. If he didn't think there was an opportunity to do that, then he would not have gone there."
The 27-year-old Russian joined the Devils on Feb. 4 in a trade with the Thrashers, the only team he had played for in his eight-year NHL career after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2001. The Devils sent Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick to Atlanta in return for Kovalchuk and Anssi Salmela.
Top-line forward Zach Parise believes Kovalchuk will be much more comfortable with the Devils next season when he is with them for the entire year.
"It'll make a big difference," Parise told the AP. "You are throwing someone in midseason when sometimes it is tough when you are comfortable with certain situations."
When the trade with the Thrashers was completed, Lamoriello believed his team finally had the goal scorer it needed to make a run at a fourth Cup championship in 15 seasons.
Kovalchuk even averaged a point a game with the Devils, scoring 10 goals and adding 17 assists in 27 games to finish with 41 goals and 44 assists for the season.
But it didn't work out the way Lamoriello had hoped. Kovalchuk, who has won just one game in two playoff trips, had two goals in the postseason when the Devils were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games in the opening round. It was New Jersey's third straight exit in the first round.
The latest followed a regular season in which the Devils won the Atlantic Division and earned the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"Just the way the seasons have ended the last three or four years, there has been a lot of disappointment out there," Parise said. "Lou looks like he's really striving to make changes and get things going in the right direction, because we have not been performing the past few years when it counts."
The Devils have been very active since the playoffs ended. MacLean was named to replace Jacques Lemaire, who retired. The team reacquired veteran center Jason Arnott in a trade and signed defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov and goaltender Johan Hedberg in free agency.
Information from ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and The Associated Press contributed to this report.