The Los Angeles Kings brought in Russian forward and one-time dynamic scorer Ilya Kovalchuk with a highly-anticipated but somewhat controversial signing over the 2018 NHL offseason. While Kovalchuk hasn't been a bust, it appears the Kings may already be considering a trade.
Kovalchuk joined the Kings this summer from the KHL. A former NHL sniper who'd been a part of the NHL since 2001 and played seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils, Kovalchuk had multiple seasons with over 80 points and two seasons with over 50 goals. However, over contract disputes, he left the Devils and joined St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL where he played for five seasons and was often better than a point-per-game player. Word came that he wanted to return to the NHL and there were multiple teams interested. The Kings won the auction, offering a three-year term worth $6.25 million per season.
It was a high price to pay for a player who many weren't sure could still hang in a league that was much faster and younger than when he left it.
Under former coach John Stevens, Kovalchuk had played respectably. He scored five goals and 14 points in 23 games. That's good enough for the team lead in points. Unfortunately, he's also a plus-minus - 13 and when Stevens was let go from his job as coach and replaced by Willie Desjardins, Kovalchuk was moved down to the fourth line, has no points, and hasn't received much ice time since. He hit a season-low of 6:20 seconds in Sunday's game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Now potentially in the doghouse with the new coach, there are whispers the Kings are considering a trade and that Desjardins sees Kovalchuk as a one-dimensional player.
Desjardins spoke about Kovalchuk earlier today. pic.twitter.com/So4VaoL7LF— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) November 26, 2018
Dennis Bernstein, host of Off the Rush on Sirius Radio and the NHL Network tweeted that if “coaching staff and management are aligned in thinking their best chance to win is playing Ilya Kovalchuk less than 10 min game on the 4th line, Rob Blake should be actively shopping him.” Berstein said he can see a scenario where Kovalchuk doesn’t finish the season in LA but to make a trade work the Kings will have to retain salary.
What This Means
If the Kings do choose to move Kovalchuk, bringing him in has to be considered a huge flop of an experiment. He was, at one time, an NHL sniper but without the production today, all the Kings now have is a highly-overpaid contract that will be hard to move.
Already struggling in the NHL standings, the Kings may be a team ready to shake things up and it wouldn't shock anyone if the organization tries to find a home for Kovalchuk. If they're willing to eat some salary, it also might not be a surprise if a team takes a gamble on the 35-year-old Russian.