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Arbitrator rules against Ilya Kovalchuk's contract with Devils

An arbitrator upheld the NHL’s rejection of Ilya Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102-million contract with the New Jersey Devils on Monday, forcing the three-time All-Star back into the unrestricted free-agent market.

Arbitrator Richard Bloch agreed with the league that Kovalchuk’s contract was an attempt to circumvent the league’s salary cap, making his decision following a two-day hearing in Boston last week.

In a statement, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly hailed the decision: “We want to thank arbitrator Bloch for his prompt resolution of a complex issue. His ruling is consistent with the league’s view of the manner in which the collective bargaining agreement should deal with contracts that circumvent the salary cap.”

Kovalchuk signed with the Devils on July 19, but the NHL rejected the contract the next day. The NHL Players Assn. filed a grievance with the league on July 26, allowing the dispute to go to arbitration.

The Kings, who were considered a favorite for Kovalchuk’s services at the start of free agency, said they would be interested in restarting contract talks with the Russian winger if he became a free agent again.

However, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi has previously said he doesn’t want to sign Kovalchuk if it means stifling the team’s chances at re-signing defenseman Drew Doughty, who becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Last month, the team was prepared to offer Kovalchuk a 15-year deal worth $80 million.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported Doughty is set to become an unrestricted free agent. He will become a restricted free agent next summer.

The Devils could sign Kovalchuk by restructuring the rejected contract.

The ruling could mean the end of front-loaded contract offers. The NHL intends to close the loophole that allows for such deals under the current collective bargaining agreement.

Several players including Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger, Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Chicago’s Marian Hossa previously signed front-loaded deals that were not challenged by the NHL.

We’ll have more on this development soon at latimes.com/sports.

-- Austin Knoblauch

 
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