Five weeks after rejecting the Russian's landmark 17-year, $102 million contract with the Devils, the league approved a revised 15-year, $100 million deal on Friday after reaching an agreement with the NHL Players Association on an amendment covering long-term contracts.
Jay Grossman, Kovalchuk's agent, confirmed the agreement in an e-mail, The Associated Press reported.
In exchange for allowing those four contracts and Kovalchuk's new deal to stand under the old rules, the NHLPA agreed to new regulations governing how front-loaded, long-term contracts count against the salary cap.
A news release from the NHL and NHLPA said that "under the terms of the agreement, the new rules will apply only to long-term contracts, defined as those with terms of five years or longer, and only to contracts executed after Sept. 4, 2010. The new rules apply to contracts signed between now and the end of the CBA, as well as all contracts signed that begin in the 2012-13 season. The parties have agreed that the new rules do not automatically carry over into a new CBA."
In the future, the salary cap hit for any contract that is five years or more in length and takes a player to his 41st birthday or beyond will be determined by the average of the yearly salaries only until the year in which the player turns 40.
All remaining years in the deal after a player turns 41 will be recalculated based on the actual salary of those final years of the contract.
"We're pleased to be able to establish clearly-defined rules for these types of contracts going forward and just as happy we can turn the page on uncertainties relating to several other existing contracts," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in the statement. "From start to finish of this multi-week process we were able to work closely and cooperatively with representatives of the Players' Association, who shared our belief that the creation of definitive rules and guidelines in this area would be beneficial to everyone -- Clubs and players alike."
"We are pleased to finalize an agreement which ends the League's circumvention investigations and also establishes rules on long-term contracts that will provide players, their certified agents and general managers clarity for the negotiation of new contracts," said Roland Lee, Director of Salary Cap/Marketplace & Associate Counsel for the NHLPA. "Turning the page on this process is something that will benefit all parties involved."
The two-tiered cap system will prevent GMs from signing players like Kovalchuk to long-term deals with a dramatically reduced salary at the end of the contract designed to lower the salary cap.
Arbitrator Richard Bloch had rejected the first contract because Kovalchuk was slated to earn only $550,000 in each of the last five seasons. It would have run through the 2026-27 season, when Kovalchuk will be 44.
The original Kovalchuk deal would be allowed under the new rules, but the salary cap hit would be based on the first 13 years of the deal. When Kovalchuk turns 40, the cap hit would be recalculated based on the final four years of the contract. Under the amendment, the first 13 years of the original deal would cost the Devils $7.68 million annually against the salary cap while the final four years, when Kovalchuk would almost certainly have been retired, would come with a cap hit of $550,000.
"You could still do [that deal] but you can't use the five years at $550,000 to bring down the cap hit. It's almost two separate contracts really," the source said.
While the five contracts at issue will be honored at their current values, the new agreement agreed upon on Friday will cover any new contracts.
"Getting all those deals approved in exchange for [the new regulations] is a great deal," for the NHLPA, the source told ESPN.com.
The NHL had rejected the Devils' initial offer because it violated the league's salary cap. An arbiter upheld that decision after the union filed a grievance.
With 338 goals and 304 assists in 642 career games, Kovalchuk was the biggest prize on the NHL free agent market this season. The 27-year-old left wing had 41 goals and 44 assists in 2009-10, a season he split between Atlanta and the Devils, who acquired him in a multi-player deal in February.
As it stands, Kovalchuk's new deal will put a $6.67 million annual hit on the Devils' salary cap and put the team roughly $3 million over the league limit ($59.4 million) with only 21 players under contract, two under the league limit.
With a full roster, Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello probably is going to have to clear about $5 million in cap space before the season starts on Oct. 8.
Kovalchuk went on the free agent market on July 1. He narrowed his final choices to the Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, the Devils and SKA St. Petersburg of Russia's Continental Hockey League before agreeing to stay in New Jersey, at least until the league objected and extended his job search for about six weeks.
Kovalchuk was supposed to be the last link in New Jersey's push for a fourth Stanley Cup title since 1995. However, he could not prevent the team from being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Philadelphia.
Information from ESPN.com's Scott Burnside, ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek and The Associated Press was used in this report.