Kovalchuk chooses the Kings
The Kings needed more scoring and they got one of the best options available.
Ilya Kovalchuk has signed in LA to a three year, $18.75 million deal.
The 35-year-old winger last played in the NHL during the 2012-13 season with the New Jersey Devils where he was in the midst of a staggering 17-year contract. However, he decided to “retire” from the NHL after that season to return to his native Russia and play in the KHL.
With St. Petersburg SKA, he contributed 120 goals and 285 points in 262 regular season games and includes 31 goals and 63 points in 53 games last season. He helped captain his team to win the Gagarin Cup (KHL’s championship) twice in 2015 and 2017 and was named playoff MVP in 2015.
Internationally, the 6-3 winger represented Russia or the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the last five Olympic Games. This includes the 2018 Olympics in South Korea where he led his team to the gold medal and won tournament MVP. He has also appeared in 10 IIHF World Championships and won gold in 2008 and 2009.
Kovalchuk has be rumored to be coming back to the NHL for a few years now as the relationship between him and his KHL team became rocky. During the 2016 KHL playoffs, Kovalchuk was removed from SKA’s first round roster due to poor performance.
Due to the conditions of his retirement at that time, Kovalchuk could only return to the NHL if he did not play hockey anywhere for a season and all 30 teams approved of his return, including the Devils who held his rights.
Kovalchuk elected to stay in Russia until after the 2018 season so he could return as an unrestricted free agent due to being away from the league for five years.
The winger will now be chasing a Stanley Cup with the LA Kings in order to complete his entrance into the Triple Gold Club. It was proven during the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights that the Kings need more offense after scoring only three goals against Marc-Andre Fleury in the four game sweep.
It will be interesting to see how John Stevens utilizes Kovalchuk in the lineup as the first two lines for the club have been consistent all last season and already have chemistry with each other. Traditionally, Kovalchuk plays on the left wing, so he could replace Alex Iafallo on Anze Kopitar’s line or Tanner Pearson on Jeff Carter’s line.
The best fit for him might be on the top line with Kopitar and Dustin Brown. With Iafallo and Brown on that line, there are two players who provide “sand paper” to the line where they dig pucks out of the corners and go to the dirty areas of the ice.
Moving Kovalchuk there provides Kopitar someone who can be the sniper and possibly create a lot more scoring chances for both players. After that, Stevens has options for his second and third line where he can add Iaffalo’s north/south game with Carter and Tyler Toffoli and then move Pearson to play with Adrian Kempe.
In that sense the move creates more depth for the Kings and three lines that are a threat to score on the ice. However, one of the biggest concerns for the Kings during the playoffs was the lack of speed of the team and Kovalchuk doesn’t solves that problem.
Now that Kovalchuck is signed, the Kings have a choice to make with Tobias Rieder. The decision whether or not to give him his $2.45 million qualifying offer was based on the need for cap space this offseason. With Kovalchuk’s deal done, it is less likely that Rieder will be qualified, rendering him an unrestricted free agent.