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Prized unrestricted free-agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) is returning to the New Jersey Devils, the team announced on its official Twitter feed Monday morning:

HE'S BACK: Ilya Kovalchuk signs with the Devils. Press conference scheduled for Tuesday at the Rock

Kovalchuk agreed to a staggering 17-year, $102 million deal with the team. According to the AP, the high-scoring left wing will earn $6 million each of the next two seasons, $11.5 million for the following five seasons, $10.5 million in the 2017-18 season, $8.5 million for the 2018-19 season, $6.5 million in 2019-20, $3.5 million in 2020-21, $750,000 the following season, and $550,000 for the final five years of the unprecedented deal.

Kovalchuk, 27, has 642 career points in 621 career games in the NHL, in nearly eight years with the Atlanta Thrashers and in 27 regular-season games with the New Jersey Devils. He was taken first overall in the 2001 NHL entry draft. As any of his critics will tell you, he's played just nine playoff games and has three goals in the postseason.

[Photos: See more images of Ilya Kovalchuk]

The journey to this contract was a controversial one for Kovalchuk. Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell went public during negotiations during the season, saying his club offered Kovalchuk a 12-year, $101 million deal, but it was rejected. That led to the first Kovalchuk Derby at the trade deadline with teams ranging from the St. Louis Blues to eventual winners, the New Jersey Devils, in the mix. 

After appearing in five playoff games for the Devils, Kovalchuk hit the open market as an unprecedented unrestricted free agent for his age and stats. The Devils had to face cap questions. The Los Angeles Kings stated publicly that they were exasperated by his demands. The New York Islanders stunned the hockey world by confirming their interest in his services. The KHL kept knocking at his door.

As time went on, the Kings jumped back into talks with Kovalchuk. In fact, there were reports that Kovalchuk was close to a contract with the Kings last week. But in the end, it was Lou Lamoriello and the Devils who won out. 

As I wrote last month in my essay about Kovalchuk before free agency:

Kovalchuk has not found the same success in the NHL that he has on the international stage. Yet. Kovalchuk won the World Junior Championships (who could forget his fist pump before he scored the empty netter against Canada in the final?). He won two World Championships becoming the MVP of the 2009 tournament. He is due for winning in the NHL. And he will do so with his next club.

He has his contract. Now, it's time to prove he's a winner in the NHL. Much more on this signing soon.

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