Ilya Kovalchuk has a message for NHL owners: Cut his salary and he’s staying in Russia. And a few other compatriots might join him.
The New Jersey Devils forward, who signed with SKA Saint Petersburg at the start of the NHL lockout, made the declaration to the Russian website Sportbox.ru.
"We are all happy here [in the KHL]. If the conditions in the NHL will be unclear, many guys will think twice whether to return there or not," he told the website.
"Basically, I don’t rule out staying in Russia in the case of a reduction of our salaries in the NHL."
Kovalchuk believes the league’s latest offer, one that proposed a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue with the players but limited the length of contracts, among other stipulations, was a move to improve the NHL's image rather than kick-start negotiations.
"It’s the same old offer, but in different words," he said. "Right now, the NHL has very bad media and they want to fix it.
"Alex Ovechkin and I agree on this. I already discussed this matter with him as well as with Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Bryzgalov. We’ll wait for other proposals."
Two years ago, Kovalchuk signed a 15-year deal with the Devils worth $100 million US.
The NHL's latest offer would not allow a contract of that length. One of the NHLPA’s proposals last week was a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue contingent on the league honouring all contracts signed before the lockout started.
For now, Kovalchuk seems content to be playing in Russia’s top hockey league. Among the top scorers in the NHL for the past seven years, he has already collected 20 points in 11 games with his new KHL team.
"I can play in the KHL for the whole year and I’ll do it with great pleasure," he said.