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New Jersey Devils star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, of Russia, smiles during a news conference in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, July 20, 2010. Kovalchuk will have to re-examine his contract.

Mel Evans/AP

Months after signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $102-million (U.S.) contract the NHL later deemed circumvented the salary cap, the New Jersey Devils learned the penalty - and it was high.

On Monday, the NHL fined the Devils $3-million and will force them to forfeit a first-round draft choice in one of the next four years. In addition, the Devils also lose their 2011 third-round draft choice.

The Devils can decide which of the first-rounders they will surrender, but must advise the league of their decision by the day after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup final in the calendar year in which the choice will be forfeited.

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Arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled Aug. 9 that 17-year deal was an attempt to get around the salary cap. That contract was to last until Kovalchuk's 44th birthday and featured a number of years at a reduced salary.

The team maintained its innocence throughout the entire process and continued to do so in the wake of Monday's announcement. It's not clear whether the Devils will appeal the punishment.

"We were today advised of the ruling by the commissioner with respect to the Kovalchuk matter," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said in a statement. "We disagree with the decision. We acted in good faith and did nothing wrong. We will have no further comment."

If the ruling stands, the cost of signing Kovalchuk will be much more than the $100-million he agreed to in a revamped 15-year deal that was approved by the NHL earlier this month.

The punishment handed down on Monday is the stiffest the league has dished out since the salary cap was instituted coming out of the 2004-05 lockout. While such penalties are rare, they're not entirely unprecedented - in April of 2009, the Toronto Maple Leafs were fined $500,000 and surrendered a fourth-round pick after helping defenceman Jonas Frogren buy his way out of a contract in Sweden.

Kovalchuk is one of the league's premier scorers, after topping the 40-goal mark in six consecutive seasons. The Russian winger was selected first overall in 2001 by the Atlanta Thrashers. He has 338 goals and 642 points in 621 career NHL games.

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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