- Associated Press - Monday, July 19, 2010

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Unlike the NBA’s LeBron James, the biggest prize on the NHL free agent market isn’t moving.

Ilya Kovalchuk is staying with the New Jersey Devils.

Kovalchuk’s agent and the team announced on Monday that the high-scoring left wing has agreed to a multiyear contract, ending weeks of speculation where the league’s leading goal scorer since 2001 would be skating next season. Terms of the deal were not immediately available.

“This was a long arduous process that has taken frankly a little longer than I thought,” agent Jay Grossman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “But you know what, nothing is worth anything unless you work for it. I can tell you he is very happy to be with the New Jersey Devils.”

The Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, Devils and SKA St. Petersburg of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League talked with Kovalchuk after free agency started on July 1.

The final decision came down to the Kings and the three-time Stanley Cup champion Devils, who haven’t won a title since 2003.

Grossman refused to say that Kovalchuk decided to stay because he felt the Devils had a better chance to win the Cup again.

“This was so far complex that I don’t want to get into those questions,” Grossman said. “Obviously his goal is to win the Stanley Cup. If he didn’t think there was an opportunity to do that, then he would not have gone there.”

Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, and coach John MacLean didn’t immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.

James disappointed Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans earlier this month when he signed with the Miami Heat for a chance to chase an NBA title with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The Devils‘ only major loss in free agency was defenseman Paul Martin, who went to the Atlantic Division-rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 27-year-old Kovalchuk was traded to the Devils by Atlanta in February after rejecting a 12-year, $101 million extension offered by the Thrashers.

Kovalchuk (KOH’-vul-chuck) had 41 goals and 44 assists last season when he earned $7.5 million. He posted only 10 goals and 17 assists with the Devils.

Top-line forward Zach Parise believes that Kovalchuk will be much more comfortable with the Devils next season when he is with them for the entire year.

“It’ll make a big difference,” Parise told the AP. “You are throwing someone in midseason when sometimes it is tough when you are comfortable with certain situations.”

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