When the Los Angeles Kings convinced free agent Ilya Kovalchuk to sign on the dotted line last offseason it was in part because both the player and the team foresaw Kovalchuk as the final piece to the team’s Stanley Cup puzzle. Just seven months later though and the Kings look more like a pretender than a contender and, in fact, are contending for top spot in the NHL’s Draft Lottery as one of the worst teams in the league.
Suffice it to say, both the Kings and Kovalchuk would appreciate a do-over and the NHL’s February 25th Trade Deadline could provide the perfect opportunity. According to NHL insider Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic, Kovalchuk has agreed to waive his no-trade clause for the right fit and the Kings have agreed to retain some of his $6.5 million salary so long as they get a healthy enough return via trade.
So… who’s interested? First off, Kovalchuk is due $6.25 annual for the next three seasons and is already 35 years old. He has just 11 goals and 26 points in 44 games with the Kings, but there’s reason to believe that those numbers can be improved upon with a more offensively minded team. Then again… what if this is who Kovalchuk really is? He’s more than ten years removed from his prime with the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils and interested general managers would be wise to do their due diligence before thinking they’re getting a 50 goal sniper with a 35 year old Kovalchuk.
LeBrun highlights the Boston Bruins, Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks as potential destinations, given that the teams were interested in Kovalchuk during the offseason. Having said that, there are also better options out there for these clubs… even if it means standing pat.
Boston, Vegas and San Jose were among the teams that showed interest in Kovalchuk last summer but the Sharks aren’t sounding overly aggressive ahead of the deadline — their Erik Karlsson trade in September was their big trade deadline acquisition it would seem — while the B’s as far as I can tell are more focused on pending UFAs like Panarin and Wayne Simmonds, among others. I see Vegas being all over Stone if he becomes available.
Still, the Kovalchuk situation is something to keep an eye on closer to Feb. 25. If a team thinks the Russian veteran can help, he’s definitely available.
He may very well be available, but unless Kings GM Rob Blake is willing to eat some serious cash, it seems unlikely that anyone will take on Kovalchuk and his onerous contract. Still, as LeBrun reports, Kovalchuk will definitely be worth watching over these next three weeks.