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Biggest NHL Free Agent Prize Staying With Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk is staying with the New Jersey Devils.

Kovalchuk's agent and the team announced on Monday that the biggest prize of the NHL free agent market agreed to a new contract, ending weeks of speculation where the high-scoring left wing would play next season. Terms 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 since free agency started on July 1.

The final decision came down to the Kings and Devils. New Jersey will officially reintroduce Kovalchuk to New Jersey at a news conference on Tuesday.

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

"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."

Neither Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello nor star forward Zach Parise immediately returned telephone messages seeking comment.

The team's only major loss during the offseason was defenseman Paul Martin, who signed with 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 had 41 goals and 44 assists last season while earning $7.5 million, but he posted only 10 goals and 17 assists with the Devils.

When the trade with the Thrashers was completed, Lamoriello felt his team finally had the goal scorer it needed to make a run at a fourth Stanley Cup title since 1995.

It didn't work out that way. Kovalchuk had two goals in the postseason, but the Devils were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games in the opening round. It was New Jersey's third straight exit in the first round.

Kovalchuk has won only one playoff game in his NHL career.

The Devils have been very active since the playoffs ended. John MacLean was named the new coach, replacing Jacques Lemaire, who retired. The team reacquired veteran center Jason Arnott in a trade and signed defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov and goalie Johan Hedberg in free agency.

The first pick overall in the 2001 NHL draft, Kovalchuk has scored 338 career goals, the most by any player in the league in that period. He has only been to the playoffs only twice in eight NHL seasons.

Kovalchuk was acquired from the Thrashers along with defenseman Anssi Salmela for forward Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier, a first-rounder and a swap of second-round picks.