Before Ilya Kovalchuk decided to walk away from the final 12 years and $77 million remaining on his contract with the Devils and return to his homeland to play in the KHL teams from the Russia-based league also tried to lure away two other players from New Jersey.

The difference was both Andrei Loktionov and Dainius Zubrus had expiring contracts with the Devils. Loktionov would have been a restricted free agent had he not re-signed with a one-year one-way deal for $725000. Zubrus re-signed with the Devils for three years at $9.3 million total about a week before he was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.

Zubrus who is from the former Soviet republic of Lithuania told me today that “there was some contact” from the KHL before his new deal with the Devils got done but it never reached the point where they were negotiating a potential contract.

“I never really (pursued it)” he said. “My first priority was to stay here and I was up front and honest and I told them that. But they have contacted me there and they called me up and said if that’s in my thought process we could start negotiating. I said at that time I was not ready. I said ‘Let me just see what happens here’ and everything worked out the way I was hoping.”

Loktionov also got what he was hoping for by remaining in the NHL with the Devils and the 23-year-old Russian center says he turned down a significant amount of money from the KHL to do that. Loktionov confirmed to me today what his agent former Devil Igor Larionov told the Winnipeg Sun last week – that he turned down a $3 million offer to play in the KHL.

“Some teams they wanted to give me that money a few teams actually” Loktionov said. “The money is not interesting for me right now. I’m more interested in playing in the NHL. I know money is very important but to me I wanted to play here.”

The reason Loktionov chose the NHL over the KHL is simple.

“Because it’s the best league right now” he said. “It’s good for me to grow up as a player.”

Loktionov admitted “it was a little bit of a shock for me” when he heard that Kovalchuk had decided to leave the Devils and returned to Russia and SKA St. Petersburg the KHL team he played for during last season’s NHL lockout. After skating on the same line with Kovalchuk at times last season following his Feb. 6 trade from Los Angeles Loktionov got to play with him some more at the world championships and was hoping they would play together again this season in New Jersey.

“It was a surprise to me he left” Loktionov said. “I would like to see him here.”

Zubrus also said he was “very surprised” at first when he heard the news about Kovalchuk.