Ilya Kovalchuk is once again an unrestricted free agent as systems arbitrator Richard Bloch has determined the NHL was within its legal right to reject the 17-year, $102 million contract Kovalchuk signed with the New Jersey Devils in July.
Bloch heard arguments from both the NHL and the NHL Players' Association, which filed a grievance on Kovalchuk's behalf, over two days in Boston last week. His decision came late Monday afternoon. As a result of Bloch's ruling, Kovalchuk immediately returns to unrestricted free agent status.
Upon announcing the contract was rejected, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the League would not approve it because it was a "circumvention of the Collective Bargaining Agreement."
"We want to thank Arbitrator Bloch for his prompt resolution of a complex issue," Daly said in a statement. "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."
"The NHLPA is disappointed with the Arbitrator's ruling to uphold the NHL's rejection of the contract between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk," the Players' Association said in a statement. "The NHLPA is currently reviewing the decision and will have no further comment at this time."
Lou Lamoriello, the Devils' president and general manager, issued the following statement.
"We have reviewed and respect Arbitrator Bloch's ruling in the Kovalchuk matter. We also note and appreciate his finding that nothing in his opinion should be read as suggesting that either the club or Ilya Kovalchuk operated in bad faith or on the basis of any assumption other than that the Standard Player Contract was fully compliant with the CBA. That has been our consistent position throughout.
"While we do not currently have a contract with Ilya Kovalchuk, discussions have resumed and we are hopeful that a contract will be reached that meets with the principles in Arbitrator Bloch's award and the NHL's approval."
The Devils can choose to re-work the contract in hopes of getting it approved, or Kovalchuk could look elsewhere. Los Angeles reportedly had an offer for 15 years and $80 million on the table before Kovalchuk agreed to re-sign with New Jersey.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl