NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Superstar forward llya Kovalchuk has to play for the New Jersey Devils once the NHL lockout is officially lifted.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Tuesday that the KHL reaffirmed its intention to honor an agreement with the NHL concerning contracts.
"They would not permit a player who is under a valid and binding NHL SPC (to) continue to play in the KHL once the lockout is officially lifted," Daly said in an email to The Associated Press. "They have confirmed their intention to honor this agreement to us."
There has been some intrigue this week whether Kovalchuk would leave SKA St. Petersburg to return to the Devils. Some reports in Russia said he was concerned that he would make less money playing in a lockout-shortened NHL season.
Kovalchuk, who signed a 15-year, $100 million contract with New Jersey in 2010, played in a KHL game Tuesday. He told Russian media he was playing to stay in shape pending the end of the lockout.
Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello wasn't worried.
"I have no knowledge of anything other thank him coming back," Lamoriello said in a telephone interview.
Jay Grossman, Kovalchuk's agent, did not immediately return a telephone call left by The AP.
NHL owners plan to vote on the new 10-year agreement Wednesday. Players will vote on Thursday and Friday. If both sides ratify the agreement, the league has told teams to be ready to start the season on Jan. 19. The Devils would have to open on the road because an ice show is scheduled at their arena.
About a dozen Devils worked out informally at the team's practice rink at the Prudential Center on Tuesday morning. The workout was closed to the media but a couple of players on the defending Eastern Conference-championship squad stopped their cars to talk to the media and sign autographs.
Those who did felt Kovalchuk, who led the team with 37 goals and 83 points last year and could be named the new captain, would return for the 48-game season.
"I expect him here," said defenseman Bryce Salvador, one of the team's NHLPA player representatives. "Like I said, I don't know, until you officially talk to him or hear. I think now with the KHL, it's kind of bad timing there. They are going into their All-Star Game and stuff like that, so I think that's where you're hearing all that stuff from."