Arbitration pending, is Kovalchuk a UFA?
During contract dispute, is Kovalchuk free agent or Devils property? - Puck Daddy - NHL - Yahoo! Sports
But there's been a lingering question about Kovalchuk's status among interested observers: Is he still an unrestricted free agent?[...] Devils beat writer Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record, after receiving the usual 'no comments' from GM Lou Lamoriello, sought to define Kovalchuk's current status. From Fire & Ice:
As for Kovalchuk's status-whether he is an unrestricted free agent or Devils' property-Lamoriello wouldn't answer that question either. According to someone who would know but was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject, Kovalchuk is still contractually linked to the Devils, though that contract is not considered legal by the NHL. So, he is not a UFA and is not free to speak with other teams about a contract. He could change that by requesting that the NHLPA not pursue the matter with a grievance, but that does not appear to be his intention.
So there you go: Devils property, pending NHLPA intervention.
Well, he's not exactly Devils' property, either. They can't trade him or anything, for example (I know he has a NTC, but even if he didn't, they couldn't do it). Gulitti used the phrase "contractually linked," which I think is a pretty good one.
Here's an analogy from another business. When you sign a contract to sell the rights to a piece of creative material (a song, a book, a script, a newspaper article), there is language in the contract through which you agree that you actually control the rights to the property you're selling. It's called "chain of title." If there's a "clear chain of title," it means no one else has any legal claim to the rights you are offering for sale. In the case of an NHL SPC, there is language to the effect that the player actually controls the rights he is transferring to the team he is signing with. Kovalchuk does not have a valid, approved contract with the Devils, but the Devils have a claim to his rights (which is pending arbitration). For that reason, no-one will (or can) go anywhere near Kovalchuk until this situation is resolved.