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Rumor: Kovalchuk close to decision

07.18.10 at 2:11 pm ET
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Mark Everson of NYpost.com says a source close to Ilya Kovalchuk indicated the Russian free agent is, again, close to making a decision about where he’ll lace up his skates next season.

The Kings, Devils, St. Petersburg of the KHL and a silent NHL bidder have shown interest in the left winger, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NHL draft by the Thrashers — the first Russian to be drafted first overall.

Kovalchuk, considered by some as the best NHL unrestricted free agent ever, was nominated for Rookie of the Year in his 2001-02 season (51 points in 65 games) in Atlanta and played eight seasons there before being traded to New Jersey, choosing free agency at the end of his 2009-10 season.

He was the first Thrashers player to ever score 50 goals in a season when he returned to Atlanta from Russia following the 2004-05 lockout and finished the season scoring 52. In 2007-08 he completed his second 52-goal season in three years.

Last season, in the final year of Kovalchuk’s contract with the Thrashers, the two parties could not make an agreement over a contract extension, as Kovalchuk reportedly denied 12-year, $101 million and seven-year $70 million proposals. The Thrashers traded him to the Devils on Feb. 4 with Anssi Salmela for Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya and Patrice Cormier plus a first-round pick and a swap of second-rounders.

The Kings say they believe their chances of scoring Kovalchuk are 50-50. On July 5, Kovalchuk appeared ready to sign with New Jersey when he reverted back to talks with Los Angeles unexpectedly.

The Devils have offered him $60 million over seven years, $100 million over 17 — to revitalize their left wing where Patrik Elias will take over with Jason Arnott available for the center spot. Zach Parise, up for restricted free agency next summer and unrestricted the summer after that, and Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus, are also available to play wing in New Jersey.

NYpost.com reported July 5 that the Devils had $6 million in cap space available, with 16 certain roster players, but would have to cover six roster sports with $4 million, turning $2 million over to Kovalchuk, spilling over the $59.4 million cap by $5.94 million until the regular season starts.

Kovalchuk made $7.5 million last season, and recorded 27 points in 27 games with the Devils.

Referring to Kovalchuk as the NHL’s “Jamesian free agent,” the New York Post wrote that one of Canada’s national outlets officially proposed a one-hour prime-time special announcing his decision after LeBron James‘ “Decision” on ESPN.

Read More: Ilya Kovalchuk, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Rumor Mill