Waiting is the hardest part: Kovalchuk decision likely Monday

When the NHL's 2010 free-agency period began July 1, the crop of players on the market were led by Ilya Kovalchuk(notes). He's been the dominant topic all season between the speculation of his future when he was still an Atlanta Thrasher and then where he would go this summer once he became a member of the New Jersey Devils.

Stuck in the middle and waiting for the issue to come to a finish was everyone not named Lou Lamoriello, Ilya Kovalchuk or Jay Grossman.

Fans were held "hostage" while waiting to hear of Kovalchuk's decision whether to sign with the Los Angeles Kings or New Jersey.

Fans have been held "hostage" since the NHL rejected New Jersey's 17-year, $102 million deal Kovalchuk signed on July 19 and the NHLPA promptly filed a grievance.

But now, a resolution to the "Summer of Kovalchuk" is inching closer.

The grievance hearing was held in Boston beginning Wednesday with systems arbitrator Richard Bloch listening to both sides. Tom Gulitti of the Fire & Ice blog breaks down what could the potential outcomes would be:

If Bloch decides that the NHL was wrong in rejecting Kovalchuk's 17-year, $102 million contract, then the league must immediately approve and register the deal, which would make Kovalchuk a Devil until he is 44.

If Bloch rules in favor of the NHL and that the contract was a circumvention of the salary cap and the collective bargaining agreement, then Kovalchuk will become an unrestricted free agent again. The Devils could be also subject to a fine of up to $5 million and other penalties. Kovalchuk also could be fined.

Bloch's decision must come by end of business on Monday and Gulitti reports that he's been told it won't come over the weekend.

Many believe it's an open-and-shut case and that Kovalchuk will finally, officially be a member of the Devils for the next 17 years. Should Bloch chose the NHL's side making the Russian sniper a free agent again, you'd have to believe that Kovalchuk and Lamoriello will figure out a way to re-do another contract that would appease the league. You can imagine Kings GM Dean Lombardi might want to take another shot at luring Kovalchuk to Los Angeles, but would they have a chance after all this?

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