Devils must clear cap space to sign Kovalchuk

The Ilya Kovalchuk watch is becoming a saga, not surprising given his status as arguably the best-ever unrestricted free agent.

Still believed to have the inside track to sign the left wing, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello yesterday repeated his “status quo” mantra regarding his consistent desire to sign Kovalchuk, then added, “Nothing has changed today, yesterday or the day before.”

Speculation began to percolate as how Lamoriello could sign Kovalchuk and remain beneath the salary cap of $59.4 million, or even use his summertime 10 percent excess allowance. He has some $6 million in room, counting 16 obvious regulars, and aside from Kovalchuk, would have to count six more for a 23-man roster, that half-dozen likely to total at least $4 million.

Should he sign Kovalchuk, and the figure of $60 million over seven years offered by one source seems realistic, he would barely have that 110 percent summertime space, and would have to shed some $6 million in salaries by Game 1.

Clearing cap space is a difficult task, especially with eight no-trade contracts: Brian Rolston, Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias (no movement), Jason Arnott, Colin White, Anton Volchenkov, Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg, none of which have expired or contain windows of relief, sources say.

Several of those players are said to have not been approached to waive their clauses.

Bryce Salvador ($2.9 million) and Dainius Zubrus ($3.4 million) appear the most likely sacrificial candidates without no-trade clauses. The Devils have Zach Parise, Elias, Zubrus and Brian Rolston as nominal left wings, where Kovalchuk plays.

News was scanty yesterday, despite Kovalchuk’s agent saying Monday night that the superstar left wing has narrowed down his choices, with details yet to be finalized.

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