Getty

Kovalchuk would be fantastic fit for Kings, Sharks

15 Comments

TSN’s Darren Dreger presented a fascinating update in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes: the 35-year-old is making a tour of California, meeting with the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

(Side question: does this mean Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray is just on vacation or something?)

Now, there’s no telling how interested Kovalchuk would be in signing with either team.

That said, it’s not that difficult to imagine both teams being of some interest to the veteran sniper. Kovalchuk is reportedly weighing winning more than getting the biggest paycheck possible, so it’s worth noting that both teams made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and each franchise appears to be in win-now modes. Each squad boasts lengthy recent histories of success that surely registered to Kovalchuk during his time in the NHL, too.

Oh yeah, the weather’s also nice around those areas. That cannot hurt.

Let’s consider the other vantage point, then, and daydream about how much Kovalchuk could potentially help the Kings or Sharks.

A dream combo in their twilight

The Sharks have money to burn this off-season, even with some RFAs to re-sign, such as Tomas Hertl. An unclear cap ceiling and a probable Paul Martin buyout make their exact ceiling tough to gauge, but even after retaining Evander Kane at a hefty fee, the Sharks boast a fat wallet.

Let’s assume that the Sharks a) fall short in the John Tavares sweepstakes but b) bring back Joe Thornton and sign Kovalchuk.

For hockey fans of a certain age, it would feel a lot like a generation’s Adam Oates being united with Brett Hull, albeit past their primes. (So maybe this would be akin to Hull joining Oates when the latter almost won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks?)

While you’ll get dissenters, combining the greatest passer of his time (Thornton) with the deadliest pure shooter (Kovalchuk) would feel like a fantasy hockey dream come true. Granted, that fantasy hockey dream would be from 2008, but it would probably still be a blast in 2018-19.

Hockey teaches us that those dream scenarios don’t always play out on the ice. Maybe Kovalchuk would mix better with Logan Couture. Perhaps the Sharks would rather load up Thornton with Kane and Joe Pavelski. There are probably even hypotheticals where San Jose moves the two around to try to put together three dangerous lines. And so on.

Considering how strong the Sharks looked with Thornton on the shelf, and how they have great assets including defensemen Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, it isn’t difficult to picture Kovalchuk to San Jose being mutually beneficial.

(And, hey, the Sharks have a history of landing some significant Russian players, right down to their early days.)

Speaking of delayed matches …

Speaking of Kovalchuk during his prime, it was no secret that the Kings were in hot pursuit of the winger when he hit the free agent market. Some would argue that his decision boiled down to the Kings or the New Jersey Devils.

The “What if?” scenarios are pretty fun there, as the Kings captured two Stanley Cups, including one by edging a Devils team that leaned heavily upon Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

As much as Los Angeles hopes to modernize post-Darryl Sutter, the truth is that this franchise likely still values winning now over any true notion of a rebuild. Anze Kopitar‘s $10 million cap hit runs through 2023-24, Jonathan Quick‘s deal is only one year shorter, and they’re on the hook for multiple years of Dustin Brown still. For better or worse, they may also extend Drew Doughty to a lengthy deal this summer.

Seeking free agent fixes could very well be the Kings’ path for some time, and few opportunities seem as promising as adding Kovalchuk, even at 35.

The most enjoyable scenario if they landed him:

  • After logging around Brown and Alex Iafallo last season, Kopitar could set up reams of quality scoring chances for Kovalchuk, a player who would ideally be far more capably of burying such chances.
  • Meanwhile, a healthy Jeff Carter skates with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, giving the Kings a truly dangerous one-two punch of scoring lines.

Now, it wouldn’t be shocking if Carter mixed better with Kovalchuk. (The fact that they’re both such dangerous shooters could really open up passing lanes, amusingly enough.)

Either way, a productive and useful Kovalchuk would be a boon for the Kings. Honestly, I’d argue that the Kings would want Kovalchuk more than the other way around … which is consistent with their feelings a decade ago, apparently?

***

The bottom line is that all Kovalchuk talk is speculation, as he cannot sign with an NHL team until July.

So, yes, these discussions are largely hypothetical. That’s really part of the fun, though, as imagining possible outcomes sometimes ends up being more entertaining than boring old reality.

Draft weekend maneuverings could very well alter the landscape and force a single, no-brainer choice for Kovalchuk. As of this writing, there would be a lot to like about the Sharks or Kings signing Kovalchuk, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild

Getty Images

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Tobias RiederAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Tanner PearsonJeff CarterTrevor Lewis
Kyle CliffordAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Andy AndreoffNate ThompsonTorrey Mitchell

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Alec MartinezDion Phaneuf
Jake MuzzinChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

[NHL on NBCSN: Kings, Wild continue pursuit of important points]

WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET

WILD
Jason ZuckerEric StaalNino Niederreiter
Zach PariseMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Tyler EnnisMatt CullenCharlie Coyle
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik

Ryan SuterMatt Dumba
Jonas Brodin – Ryan Murphy
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings at Kings

Getty

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Detroit Red Wings

Tyler BertuzziHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Darren HelmDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha

Justin AbdelkaderFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Martin FrkLuke Glendening — Evgeny Svechnikov

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Dan DeKeyserNick Jensen

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Starting goalie: Jared Coreau

[Red Wings – Kings preview.]

Los Angeles Kings

Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tobias RiederJeff CarterTrevor Lewis

Tanner PearsonAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli

Kyle CliffordMichael AmadioNate Thompson

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Dion PhaneufAlec Martinez

Jake Muzzin — Paul LaDue

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

WATCH LIVE: Los Angeles Kings at Vegas Golden Knights

Getty

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Los Angeles Kings

Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Tanner PearsonJeff CarterTyler Toffoli

Tobias RiederAdrian KempeNate Thompson

Kyle CliffordMichael AmadioTorrey Mitchell

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty

Dion PhaneufAlec Martinez

Jake MuzzinChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Jack Campbell

[Kings – Golden Knights preview.]

Vegas Golden Knights

Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith

David PerronErik HaulaJames Neal

Alex TuchCody EakinTomas Tatar

Ryan ReavesRyan CarpenterTomas Nosek

Luca SbisaNate Schmidt

Shea TheodoreDeryk Engelland

Colin MillerBrayden McNabb

Starting goalie: Maxime Lagace

Short on talent, Kings are in need of overhaul

Getty
4 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

With their teams falling out of the playoff race and the NHL trade deadline just around the corner the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators have sent the message to their fans that changes are probably coming to their roster.

The mindset is simple: The team’s aren’t good enough to win as currently constructed and it is probably time to hit the reset button and start over.  It might mean a step backwards in the short-term for what will — hopefully — be a stronger, more consistent and competitive organization in the not-too-distant future.

There’s another team in the NHL that should look into hitting a similar reset button.

The Los Angeles Kings.

This week they swapped undesirable contracts with the Ottawa Senators when they sent Marian Gaborik packing in exchange for Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf might be able to give the Kings a little more than Gaborik would have over the next few years, but it is probably not enough to move the needle in any meaningful way.

[Related: Senators Trade Dion Phaneuf To Kings]

It’s not that the Kings are terrible. They are not one of the bottom teams in the league and even after losing in Pittsburgh on Thursday night they are still very much alive in the playoff race, sitting three points out of a playoff spot (both a Wild Card spot and the third spot in the Pacific Division) with a couple of teams ahead of them.

Even though they are still “in it,” this season just seems like a re-run over the past three. They’ve missed the playoffs in two of those seasons (and if they fall short this season would be three out of four without a trip to the postseason) and have not won a playoff round since 2014.

After falling short of the postseason a year ago the Kings made some significant changes off the ice by letting go of coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi. The organization said all of the right things about wanting to But the results on the ice are very much the same. A well-coached, well-positioned defensive team that is tough to score against that does a lot of things well but just doesn’t have the high-end talent throughout its roster to take advantage of it and win.

They can’t score. They do not generate a lot offensively. They seem to just lack … excitement. And creativity. And just anything that makes them even somewhat dangerous with the puck.

The big three that was the foundation of their Stanley Cup teams in 2012 and 2014 is still in place.

Anze Kopitar is still one of the great players in the league, but he can’t do it alone. At age 30 he is not getting any younger, either.

Drew Doughty is still a top-tier defenseman, but his contract is up after next season and it is not known if he will re-sign with the team. If he leaves a lot of what makes their defense work goes out the door and there is really no way to replace that.

Jonathan Quick is capable of going on hot streaks where he is unbeatable in net, but he also has stretches where his play dips significantly.

Beyond those three, what else is there here to really get excited about it you’re a Kings fan? Or the Kings as an organization?

You could point to Jeff Carter being sidelined for most of the season and how much his absence has hurt and you wouldn’t be wrong. But he also appeared in all 82 games last season and the Kings still missed the playoffs by eight points.

Dustin Brown had a nice bounce-back season at the start, but his production has cooled considerably in recent months and he’s still 33 year sold and signed for four more years at more than $5.5 million per season. This season will be the first time since 2011-12 he will record more than 36 points in a season. And that required a rather unsustainable hot streak of production at the start of the year to get him there that isn’t likely to be duplicated in future seasons.

Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli represented a next wave of young talent, and they are pretty good players, but now that they are both in the middle of their age 25 seasons this is probably the level of production (maybe 20 goals, maybe 45 points) that should be expected from them on a regular basis. Maybe they are capable of a bigger season on occasion, but probably nothing more than that consistently.

The NHL is getting younger, faster and more skilled every day and the Kings are lagging behind in all of those areas. They are one of the oldest teams in the league, they still try to live through “heavy hockey,” and they just don’t have enough high-end skill outside of their top two or three players. Even worse, there doesn’t seem to be much hope on the horizon that it will be any different unless they make some significant changes to the roster and the way they play.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be a scorched earth, Buffalo Sabres-style tank-fest for the next five years, but the current formula and structure in Los Angeles is no longer working with the current cast. They seem to be more than just one or two tweaks away from fixing it.

The longer they wait on hitting the reset button, the worse it is probably going to get.

————

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.