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With Huge Money and a Possible Decision on TV, Is Ilya Kovalchuk Hockey's LeBron?

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Sure, the relative obscurity of hockey and the NHL compared to basketball and the NBA south of Canada's border has meant that NHL free agency typically goes underreported in the Lower 48. (This assumes Alaska gets hockey reporting and Hawai'i doesn't give a pineapple core.) But that doesn't mean the NHL is without its free agency drama: Ilya Kovalchuk is doing his best to string out his signing until global warming renders hockey unplayable, and there may be a LeBron-style decision show on the way, according to the New York Post.

⇥⇥⇥The Post has learned that one of Canada's national outlets formally has proposed that Kovalchuk, the 27-year-old goal-scoring machine who is the most luminous prime-time star in NHL free agent history, announce his Decision during a one-hour network special based on LeBron's precedent-setting episode on ESPN.

Obviously, New York's finest tabloid reads the tea leaves to mean that the bright lights might sway Kovalchuk to pick the big city. The mammoth contract the Post reports the Devils have readied wouldn't hurt, though.

⇥⇥⇥Impeccable sources have told The Post that the Devils have a contract offer on the table to Kovalchuk for 17 years at more than $100 million, and front-loaded so that Kovalchuk would collect $100 million over the first 10 years of the deal. Yet the winger, who recorded 27 points (10-27) as a Devils' rental while enjoying his experience in New Jersey, hasn't accepted it.
Kovalchuk, in case you were wondering, is 27, so a 17-year deal, played to its conclusion, would make him one of the 15 oldest players in NHL history. In case you thought it was only one NHL general manager who had lost his mind and proposed a ridiculously long deal, other leading offers for Kovalchuk are in the range of 12 years and $63 million from the Kings, according to the Post, and a different seven years and $60 million from the Devils reportedly out there. And then there was that rumored 10 years and $100 million from the Islanders. And then there's the insinuation by the Post that the Rangers might get into the Kovy sweepstakes.

And yet: No one has even the foggiest clue about where Kovalchuk will sign. He's apparently not leaning in any particular direction, and might be waiting for wallet-stuffing short-term deals in the hopes that he can sign one and then cash in when the economy recovers.

So, yeah, there's been a crazier free agency chase than LeBron James' this summer. It's just that it happened to deal with the sport on ice, no one has any idea who is in hot pursuit of whom, and hockey's rep as a sport for tough guys and teamwork is going to inure Kovalchuk to a lot of the vitriol aimed at James.

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.