Deadline for Kovalchuk decision extended to Friday

Just when you thought it was going to end, it won’t.

The deadline for the NHL to decide if the latest deal between unresitricted free agent Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils is acceptable has been extended to Friday.

The deadline had previously been Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET, but the league and the NHL Players’ Association agreed to extend the time the NHL had to decide whether or not to accept the deal.

Reported terms of the latest deal were 15 years and $100 million, with the yearly breakdown (in millions of dollars) as follows: 6/6/11/11.3/11.3/11.6/11.8/10/7/4/1/1/1/3/4. The previously rejected deal reportedly had Kovalchuk receiving $550,000 in each of the last four years of the contract.

The NHL turned down Kovalchuk’s 17-year, $102 million contract with the Devils on July 20, and the ruling was upheld in arbitration on Aug. 9.

Both the league and the arbitrator concluded that the contract was purposely lengthened in order to circumvent the NHL salary cap.

The Devils and Kovalchuk agreed on the framework of a new long-term deal last week, but that was also rejected by the NHL.

Kovalchuk has consistently said he would rather play in the NHL than sign a contract with the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League, which opens play Sept. 8. But rumors persist that if the latest deal isn’t accepted by the NHL, he’ll end up playing in Russia.

”We remain optimistic that this extension will result in an approval of the contract and that Ilya Kovalchuk will remain a valuable member of the Devils for the balance of his career,” Devils president Lou Lamoriello said in a statement released by the team. ”We will have no further comment until the decision is rendered.”

The 27-year-old Kovalchuk, who has twice scored 52 goals in a season, is arguably the best unrestricted NHL free agent this year. The Russian left wing has 338 goals and 304 assists in 642 career games, including 41 goals and 44 assists last season. Kovalchuk had spent his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers until being traded to New Jersey in February.

Newscore contributed to this report.