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Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on February 5, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Jim McIsaac/2010 Getty Images)
Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on February 5, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Jim McIsaac/2010 Getty Images)

KHL still courting Kovalchuk Add to ...

Even the world hockey summit wasn't immune to conversation about the summer's seemingly never-ending NHL story, as discussions over Russian star Ilya Kovalchuk's contract negotiations with the New Jersey Devils were one of the event's major talking points on Wednesday.

KHL president Alexander Medvedev told reporters after the afternoon session he was still hopeful Kovalchuk could sign with his club, SKA St. Petersburg.

"Ilya knows that our proposal is still on the table," Medvedev said. "Actually, I got a call from his agent. I will call (him back) after I finishing the discussion with you."

Encouraged by media to make the call immediately, Medvedev then joked that "it could be big news."

Officially, however, there have been few major developments in Kovalchuk's contract talks with the Devils since his original 17-year, $102-million contract was rejected by the league and an arbitrator in recent weeks.

The two sides did meet with NHL officials on Monday to discuss various contract parameters on a new deal, a situation the Devils and Kovalchuk's agent Jay Grossman declined to comment on. According to a report in the New York Post, they presented the framework for a new deal that did not gain the league's approval.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman skirted a question on the issue Wednesday by saying only that the NHL had not rejected a second contract.

"In order for a contract to be rejected, there would have to be a signed contract submitted," Bettman said. "There has not been a signed contract submitted."

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he believes Kovalchuk will ultimately choose to stay in North America, but added that the league was prepared to stand by the contract rejection even if it meant losing him to Russia.

"Obviously he's a great player, and we want him playing in the NHL, and I believe he wants to play in the NHL," Daly said. "As a matter of fact, during our arbitration on the first contract, he said as much. His priority is to play in the NHL. It's the best competition in the world, and he wants to be in the league. We obviously want him playing in the league.

"Having said that, I think it's very, very important to protect our rules and to make decisions based on our rules. If it means losing a player, I'd rather protect our rules than make an exception for an exceptional player."

Bettman, meanwhile, added that he didn't take any great satisfaction in the fact that Kovalchuk's contract was rejected, despite the fact this was his first winning blow in a battle against the extremely long-term deals he has waged for years.

"We believed that that contract clearly was a circumvention and whether or not people agree with that decision, the independent arbitrator of the case agreed that it was circumvention," he said. "I'd rather that there never be circumventions. Based on the history, we don't go out of our way to disapprove contracts - that's not what we typically try to do."

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