Will Ilya Kovalchuk Leave The NHL For Russia?

While checking up on my daily NHL reading, I came across this story on Bergen Record reporter Tom Gulitti’s blog: KHL President Says SKA Petersburgh Will Beat Any NHL Offer To Devils Left Wing Ilya Kovalchuk. Seeing this, I clearly had to read further. And, with what I’ve read, it seems as if the Devils will have some serious competition in re-signing the superstar winger.

When the Devils acquired Kovalchuk on February 4, they decided to not extend the winger’s contract. As a result, Kovalchuk can become a free agent July 1. Depending on what the NHL salary cap will be for 2010-2011, the maximum amount of money Kovalchuk could earn per season would be $11 million dollars. SKA Petersburgh, a member of the Kontinental Hockey League, believes they can top that.

KHL president Alexander Medvedev told THN.com and ESPN.com that the tax structure in Russia for Russian citizens allows Kovalchuk to be offered more money. Here’s a quote from Medvedev:

“The difference between 45 percent taxes and 13 percent taxes is substantial,” Medvedev told THN.com and ESPN.com. “We could top that (NHL) money he would receive by a substantial sum. He will decide. We are going to negotiate with him and his agents what kind of agreement could be reached.”

And Medvedev isn’t just shooting from the hip. SKA Petersburgh is sponsored by the Gazprom Company, where Medvedev is deputy chairman. He clearly is someone with knowledge of the situation.

This isn’t the first time the KHL caused a stir. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman constantly complains that the Russian league poaches NHL players from the league to play in Russia. The KHL levels the same accusations against the NHL. But this would be the first time a superstar player spurned the NHL for a chance to play in Russia.

Nothing is set in stone or definite, but it will be interesting to see if the KHL really does pursue Kovalchuk this offseason.

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