Newark, NJ (Sports Network) - The New Jersey Devils made it official on Tuesday and re-introduced superstar left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, who agreed to a 17-year contract worth a reported $102 million on Monday.
Kovalchuk was acquired by the Devils last February in a trade with Atlanta and tested the free agent waters this summer before deciding to return to New Jersey.
"This was a tough process for me. This was the biggest decision of my life," said Kovalchuk at Tuesday's press conference. "I believe I made the best choice for me and my family."
New Jersey and the Los Angeles Kings were Kovalchuk's two main pursuers since the free agent signing period began July 1.
He's due to earn $6 million in each of the next two seasons, $11.5 million from 2012-17 and $10.5 million the following year. The salary falls off after that until he makes $550,000 annually the final five years of the deal. He would be 44 years old when the contract concludes in 2027.
"I'll only be 44, so I hope I'm going to keep myself in shape to keep playing," Kovalchuk quipped.
Kovalchuk played 27 games last season for the Devils after being acquired from Atlanta and compiled 10 goals and 17 assists to help New Jersey win the Atlantic Division crown. He added two goals and four assists in five playoff games as the Devils were ousted by Philadelphia in the first round.
"There is unfinished business from last season," Kovalchuk added. "That was the biggest reason I wanted to stay here. I know we're going to do much better in the future years than we did last year."
Kovalchuk turned down reported offers of $70 million over seven years and $100 million over 12 years from the Thrashers, who finally gave up on re-signing the sniper and sent him to New Jersey in a package that netted Atlanta defenseman Johnny Oduya, right wing Niclas Bergfors, forward Patrice Cormier and a first-round draft pick.
Selected with the first overall pick of the 2001 draft, Kovalchuk twice reached 52 goals with Atlanta and last season combined to score 41 goals in 76 games. The 27-year-old Russian native has 338 goals and 304 assists for 642 points in 621 regular-season games. He is Atlanta's all-time leader in virtually every offensive category and gives the Devils an offensive player in the prime of his career, something the organization has never really had, but at a price the franchise has never before paid.
"What you have to understand is we just built a tremendous facility here, and [the owners] have made a commitment to winning. This type of a decision is for that reason," Devils CEO Lou Lamoriello said about why the team broke from its usual frugal direction.
"We have a player that will complement the players we have, that [in turn] will complement him. The logo in front will always be more important than the name on the back. The thing I feel the best about is there's nothing more important than the team. I spoke with Ilya about that when he first came here."
Kovalchuk also said as much Tuesday, also acknowledging teammates Martin Brodeur, Jamie Langenbrunner, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, who were in attendance.
"We have an unbelievable group of guys, I can't name all of them," Kovalchuk noted, adding that the franchise's winning past also played a role in his decision. "The history, first of all, then -- when I first came here -- I saw the way the organization treats its players. I'll be a Devil for life. They're a first-class organization."
It's been a busy offseason for the Devils, as the club named John MacLean its new head coach and signed defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov. New Jersey also re-acquired center Jason Arnott, who scored a double-overtime goal in the clinching Game 6 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals against Dallas, in a trade with Nashville.