Devils

Hartnett: Devils’ Kovalchuk Cutting KHL Stay Short; Damage Already Done

Kovalchuk's Stance Surely Irked Devils, Can Kiss Captaincy Chances Goodbye
Ilya Kovalchuk (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Ilya Kovalchuk (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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‘Devils In The Details’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Since their emergence in 2001, Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings have been two of the NHL’s most eye-catching talents. The Russian superstars have captivated fans with tremendous one-on-one moves and can create highlight-reel goals with a rare combination of patience and skill.

Both will take part in the 2013 KHL All-Star Game on Jan. 13. Datsyuk received permission from the Red Wings to participate in the event being held at Traktor Sport Palace in Chelyabinsk, Russia. He will return to the Red Wings immediately after the event.

Kovalchuk’s situation with SKA St. Petersburg wasn’t as straightforward. His recent comments in Russian daily newspaper Sports-Express raised more than a few eyebrows.

“I want to stay in St. Petersburg but I have contractual obligations in the NHL, which will be hard to break,” Kovalchuk told Sport-Express.

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello has not stated publicly whether Kovalchuk has been given permission to play in the KHL All-Star Game. Lamoriello has maintained that he expects Kovalchuk to report when Devils training camp opens.

On Friday, Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo! confirmed on Twitter: “According to SKA coach, yesterday’s game was most likely the last in the KHL for Kovalchuk, meaning he will leave for NJ as early as Monday.”

Kovalchuk previously stated that he needs to look at the language of the new collective before making any decision. How escrow is paid could be a concern for Kovalchuk who is owed $88 million until his contract expires after the 2024-25 season.

“I will need to read the new agreement,” he told Sport-Express on Tuesday.

The NHL’s new collective bargaining agreement has been ratified by league owners, but it still requires the approval of the NHLPA. Players will have a 36-hour window to ratify, which began at 8 p.m. ET Thursday and continues through Saturday at 8 a.m.

Kovy Was In No Rush To Leave KHL

(credit: Twitter/@khl_rus)

(credit: Twitter/@khl_rus)

KHL and SKA St. Petersburg president Alexander Medvedev has questioned the legality of contracts signed under the previous CBA. “(The) new CBA may be basis for terminating existing contracts, some players will stay,” Medvedev told SportsDaily in Russia. “Our league will act according to our own and international rules. If players decide to stay, we will help them.”

SKA is owned by Gazprom, a Russian gas exporting giant that is the only company allowed to export gas out of Russia. Gazprom makes tens of billions of U.S. dollars in net profit per year.

Money isn’t an object to Medvedev. In 2009, he activated considered purchasing an NHL franchise. Considering the KHL’s frosty relationship with the NHL, it appears that won’t be happening any time soon.

Rumors have gathered pace that Medvedev’s close ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, offered Kovalchuk and other stars a large sum to remain in the KHL.

All of this seemed a bit far-fetched in my eyes. It was hard to envision a scenario that allowed Kovalchuk to stay in Russia. The NHL and KHL have an internal agreement on respecting each league’s contracts. Had Kovalchuk boycotted the NHL, the International Ice Hockey Federation would have stepped in and backed the NHL on the basis of precedence.

Kovalchuk Has Thrown Away Chance At Being Named Devils’ Captain

(credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

(credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

The Devils are without a permanent captain after Zach Parise joined the Minnesota Wild during the offseason. Kovalchuk was expected to be the overwhelming favorite to be handed the vacant captain’s role. Considering his public comments and lack of desperation to return to the NHL, it would be difficult to imagine Lamoriello rewarding Kovalchuk with the captain’s ‘C.’

Assistant captain Patrik Elias served as Devils’ primary captain during the 2006-07 season. In addition to Elias — Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene and Dainius Zubrus are potential captain candidates.

Although Kovalchuk will return to the Devils before their expected Jan. 19 season opener against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, the damage has been done.

Whether or not he’s a happy camper and whether the Devils will view him in the same light after his KHL stance remains to be seen. He’s going to have to re-earn the trust of his teammates who all put their loyalty to the Devils organization first and foremost.

Do you think this will disrupt Kovalchuk’s relationship with the Devils? Send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN and leave your comments below…