KHL hopes to add Kovalchuk

Updated: February 27, 2010, 5:59 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The president of the KHL confirmed Saturday that the Russian-based league will aggressively pursue star winger Ilya Kovalchuk once his NHL contract expires on June 30.

Kovalchuk
Kovalchuk

"Yes, yes, because it will be absolutely legal," Alexander Medvedev said during a sitdown interview with ESPN.com and The Hockey News. "It's understood with the leagues that if it's a free agent or even a restricted free agent, they could decide where to play. So Kovalchuk has the full right to decide where to play. We are going to negotiate with him and his agents what kind of agreement could be reached."

Unless he signs an extension with the New Jersey Devils, Kovalchuk will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Medvedev's company Gazprom owns the KHL club in St. Petersburg and he's hopeful the former Atlanta Thrasher will be open to a lucrative offer to jump ship from the NHL.

"The difference between 45 percent taxes and 13 percent taxes is substantial," Medvedev said. "We could top that [NHL] money he would receive by a substantial sum up. He will decide."

In other words, a $7-million salary in Russia for Kovalchuk is akin to making almost double in the NHL and that's what Medvedev hopes will be the biggest allure.

While the KHL hopes to add a marquis star of Kovalchuk's stature, Medvedev understands there's a chance it will lose Jaromir Jagr, who has played the last two seasons with Omsk. Jagr's contract expires at the end of the season, and he told reporters last week that he would consider a return to the NHL.

"His contract will expire," said Medvedev. "Obviously Jaromir is a one of the stars of the KHL and we would be happy for him to stay. But legally he has the right to go any place."

In other developments, Medvedev said he met four times this week with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and reported progress in the strained relations between the two leagues.

"I will characterize it as a constructive meeting," he said of the last encounter here in Vancouver. "It was a broad agenda. Some things could be done relatively quickly, some of it will require time. But at least now we have an agreement on what should we do, who will be responsible and which results we anticipate."

Just what exactly the two league leaders were discussing remains vague.

"We agreed not to disclose anything before we reach an agreement," said Medvedev.

Bettman confirmed meeting with Medvedev.

"It is fair to say we had a constructive discussion," Bettman told ESPN.com via email Saturday. "Second, we didn't agree to any specifics. And, third, we agreed to not say anything other than we had a constructive discussion."

An obvious point of disagreement is Medvedev's concern that the NHL has not yet committed its players for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

"You can't change your philosophy overnight but at least we had a constructive discussion," Medvedev said when asked about what Bettman told him regarding 2014.

But again, Medvedev warned that Russia's top NHL stars will be in Sochi regardless of whether the NHL has signed off on it, saying that Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin have pledged to be there either way.

"They have said that nobody can forbid them to play for their own country in the Olympics," he said. "I'm rather sure that these guys will play on the [2014] Russian Olympic team. And it doesn't only refer to Russian players but I have heard statements from other European players which are committed to play for their countries in the Olympic Games."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.