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Devils pull surprise by yanking big-money Kovalchuk

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Ilya Kovalchuk, who signed a 15-year, $100-million deal with the New Jersey Devils in the off-season, was mysteriously yanked from Saturday's game against the Buffalo Sabres.

Kovalchuk took the ice at the Devils' optional practice on Saturday morning but was replaced in the lineup by Alexander Vasyunov, who was called up from the minor leagues.

"That's between him and I," said Devils coach John MacLean regarding the omission of Kovalchuk from the lineup.

"It was my decision. I spoke with him, and that's where it's going to stay."

The team was advised of the move as they arrived for the game in the late afternoon.

"Yeah, real surprised," Zach Parise said. "We don't know anything about it but I think we were all surprised."

"I'd love to give you some insight; we don't know what is going on," team captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "You have to ask the guys that make those decisions and have control. We really don't know."

When asked if Kovalchuk would be in the lineup on Sunday against the New York Rangers, MacLean was non-committal indicating he would make a decision on Sunday morning.

(Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario. Editing by Alastair Himmer. To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)