NEWARK, N.J. – New Jersey Devils leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk will be back in the United States Tuesday and practice with the Eastern Conference champions Wednesday.
Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello announced Kovalchuk’s plans Sunday, just minutes before the Devils took the ice for their first practice ahead of the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
Lamoriello said he spoke with Kovalchuk and his agent, Jay Grossman, several times during the four-month lockout and that he was never concerned whether his superstar forward would return from Russia if the lockout ended, which it did on Saturday.
Kovalchuk played in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg during the lockout and was named their captain. He participated in the KHL All-Star game Sunday.
While he could not give “official” permission to play in the game, Lamoriello said he was OK with it because it was something important to the player.
“I’m very comfortable with this situation,” Lamoriello said. “There is no penalty involved. There’s no disrespect involved. I’ve talked to him and I feel comfortable where we’re at. We’re anxious to get him back here and get him in the lineup with all the rest of the people and there will be no repercussions.”
Lamoriello insisted that Kovalchuk was not getting preferential treatment, noting that the lockout did not end until a memorandum of understanding was signed late Saturday night. He said Kovalchuk is not in violation of his 15-year, $100 million contract signed in 2010.
“This is not putting him in a different light or making him an exception,” Lamoriello said. “This is extenuating circumstances as far as I am concerned.”
The 29-year-old Kovalchuk will face greater pressure this season with the loss of captain Zach Parise and his 31 goals to Minnesota via free agency. Second-year centre Adam Henrique also is going to miss the opening weeks of the season with a thumb injury suffered while playing for Albany of the AHL during the lockout.
Kovalchuk plans to take care of family business on Tuesday after arriving, including getting his children ready for school. They have been with him in Russia.
“I bottom line is I am comfortable with it,” Lamoriello said of Kovalchuk’s late arrival, just three days before the Devils open the 48-game season at the New York Islanders on Saturday..