Ilya Kovalchuk

What is Kovalchuk’s future with Kings?

10 Comments

When Ilya Kovalchuk returned to the NHL this season both he and the Los Angeles Kings were probably expecting better results than this.

The Kings, after making the playoffs a year ago, have been one of the worst teams in the NHL and look like a franchise that is in dire of need of a rebuild. They changed coaches early in the season, made a handful of trades, and have a ton more work to do this summer to hit the reset button on a franchise that has become completely stale.

Kovalchuk, meanwhile, has managed just 14 goals and 31 total points in his 60 games and has found himself as a healthy scratch on more than one occasion, and especially recently as the team tries to look toward the future in what has become a lost season.

That coaching change earlier in the season, which saw Willie Desjardins take over behind the bench for John Stevens, seems to have been a turning point in Kovalchuk’s season, at least based on what he said on Friday when talking about his latest healthy scratch.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“After Willie came here, I don’t have a chance,” Kovalchuk said. “I play five, six minutes a game. A few games I play with Kopi. We did well. We score all five games, but then he decided to change and I never play again much. That’s the way he sees the situation. He’s the head coach and he’s responsible for results.”

There is some evidence to back up that claim as it relates to his playing time.

In the first month of the season Kovalchuk was playing close to 20 minutes per game and had eight points in his first 11 games under Stevens. In the five months that have followed under Desjardins his average ice-time by month has been 15:09, 14:17, 17:25, 16:13, and most recently 14:46 in March. There was an injury mixed in there that robbed of him some games, but he has also found himself as a healthy scratch as the team dresses seven defenders and only 11 forwards, and has also had four games this season (all under Desjardins) where he has played under 12 minutes, including three under 10 minutes.

Given his age, reduced role, and obviously declining production, as well as the fact the Kings are clearly looking to rebuild it should certainly bring his future with the team into some sort of question.

He still has two more years at more than $6.25 million per season remaining on his contract. He also has a no-movement clause and a limited no-trade clause in the final year, according to CapFriendly.

So he would hold a lot of cards in where he might end up playing if it is not Los Angeles.

Still, he told the media on Friday that he is not looking to move on and that his family has settled into the Los Angeles area.

Again, via the Los Angeles Times:

“It’s another challenge for me,” Kovalchuk said. “I’m even more motivated now because [this has happened] … like, it’s not fair to me but I’m not going to cry in the pillow. The sun’s up and the kids are in school and they’re happy and that’s most important thing. I will find a way to go through this, for sure.”

All of it together creates an interesting situation for everyone involved. If the Kings really do go through with a full-on rebuild it is hard to see how Kovalchuk would fit in those long-term plans, especially if the current coach isn’t willing to play him and he isn’t happy with that role.

While he may not be the 45-50 goal scorer that he was during the first part of his career in the NHL, we also don’t really know what he is still capable of at this level because he might have in the worst possible situation for offense this season. Not only because of the way he has been used, but because the Kings are once again one of the league’s worst offensive hockey teams. He may not be actively searching for a fresh start on another team, but it may be the best thing for everybody involved.

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.

Ilya Kovalchuk ready for cold reception in return to New Jersey

Getty Images
5 Comments

“I wanted to go to the place where I have a chance to win the Cup, and the Kings are definitely one of the teams.”

Year One of Ilya Kovalchuk’s return to the NHL isn’t going as planned, with the Los Angeles Kings selling off pieces as they contemplate the future while eyeing the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery.

The NHL comeback continues on Tuesday as Kovalchuk returns to New Jersey for the first time since his shock 2013 retirement announcement. Only two players remain from that Devils team — captain Andy Green and Travis Zajac. They might have some friendly exchanges on the ice, but the Prudential Center crowd will probably have different feelings, ones still with them nearly six years later.

“I am pretty sure there will be a lot of booing,” Kovalchuk said, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, after LA’s overtime win against the New York Rangers Monday night, “but I love that, so it’s all good.”

Of course, it was only “retiring” from the NHL so he could go to the KHL for five seasons and also represent Russia (a.k.a. Olympic Athletes of Russia) during the 2018 Winter Olympics and win gold.

The controversial decision, which came three years after he signed a 15-year, $100M extension with the Devils, worked for both sides. Kovalchuk got to go home and New Jersey freed up cap space. The league did fine the team $3M and docked them a 2011 third-round pick and a future first-round choice, but the NHL then decided in 2014 to give New Jersey back the first-rounder and forgave part of the fine.

(Kovalchuk’s original 17-year, $102M contract signed in 2010 was deemed salary cap circumvention and the NHL and NHLPA went to arbitration where the deal was nullified.)

In 222 regular season games with the Devils Kovalchuk scored 89 goals and recorded 201 points. His production continued into the postseason where he scored 10 goals and recorded 25 points in 28 playoff games, which included New Jersey’s 2012 appearance in the Stanley Cup Final against the Russian forward’s new team in LA.

After years of speculation about a return, Kovalchuk was free to come back to the NHL after turning 35 last April. The Devils had held his rights since his “retirement.” With the Kings ponying up a third year, he signed in LA for $18.75M and there was plenty of excitement and intrigue about how he would play after so long away from the NHL.

Well, through 42 games, Kovalchuk has 10 goals and 25 points. Despite claiming he’s a “young 35,” the offense has been serviceable on a famously slow Kings roster, even as he missed a time with an ankle injury. His ice time is only at 16:40, not like the 20-plus minutes a night he played during his prime years. He’s been benched, put on the third line and played a net-front presence on the power play.

It’s been a weird year all around in LA.

Given the state of the Kings and Kovalchuk still showing he can be of service with the right useage, his name has popped up in the trade rumor mill ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline. But two more years with a $6.25M cap hit will probably dissuade teams from heavily pursuing such a move.

For now, Kovalchuk is focused on Tuesday night’s game against the Devils and the memories of his years in New Jersey.

“We had a great team,” he said. “We went to the Final. It was a lot of fun. I played with some great players there, a few Hall of Famers and some guys have their jersey retired. It was a great experience for sure.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kings’ Ilya Kovalchuk to miss four weeks with ankle woes

3 Comments

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Kings forward Ilya Kovalchuk will be sidelined for about four weeks after undergoing a procedure on his ankle.

Kovalchuk underwent an ankle bursectomy Sunday, the Kings announced.

The veteran Russian forward has five goals and nine assists in 25 games since returning to the NHL with the Kings this season. Kovalchuk spent the previous five years with SKA St. Petersburg in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

The 35-year-old Kovalchuk hasn’t scored in his past 11 consecutive games, and his role has shrunk in recent weeks with the struggling Kings. Coach Willie Desjardins has kept Kovalchuk on the bench for long stretches of recent games.

The Kings signed Kovalchuk to a three-year, $18.75 million contract before the season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ilya Kovalchuk aiming for NHL return after 5 years away

Getty Images
17 Comments

MOSCOW (AP) Former NHL forward Ilya Kovalchuk says he wants to return to the league this summer and play there for “several more years.”

Kovalchuk tells Russian state sports channel Match TV that if he doesn’t try again to win a Stanley Cup, “I won’t forgive myself for it when I get older.”

Kovalchuk, who won the Olympic gold medal last month, says he’s focused on winning the Kontinental Hockey League with SKA St. Petersburg, “but in the summer I’m going to examine offers” from the NHL.

He adds that he wants to match Russian teammate Pavel Datsyuk as a member of the so-called triple gold club of players who have won the Olympic gold medal, world championship, and Stanley Cup.

Kovalchuk walked out on the New Jersey Devils in 2013 to return to Russia, where he has since won two KHL titles.

O, Dear: Russia fined $85K for skipping Canadian anthem

31 Comments

Remember when Russian hockey players stormed off the ice instead of sticking around for Canada’s national anthem after a drubbing at the 2015 World Hockey Championship? Apparently that gesture will come at a cost beyond making Matt Duchene really, really mad.

The IIHF fined the Russian Hockey Federation $85K (in the form of 80,000 Swiss francs) for those actions, pointing to an “unmistakable head gesture” from “the captain,” aka Ilya Kovalchuk.

(As you may remember, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and some other players did stay out for at least a portion of the ceremony, so it wasn’t necessarily a team-wide action.)

Here’s a portion of the release, which is soaked in somewhat amusing legalese:

The panel is of the opinion that the occurrences on the ice show that this is not a result of an unfortunate misunderstanding. The Russian players and officials left the ice after a short discussion between the Russian team captain and some Russian officials and the unmistakable head gesture of the captain. It was also noted that the Russian team and management should have been aware of the postgame/victory and closing ceremony procedure because of their vast experience with IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships. The open gate was irrelevant.

Therefore the violation of the IIHF Championship Regulations should be sanctioned by a fine as provided in Articles 5.1, 5.2 of the Disciplinary Code.

So the “oops” excuse didn’t work?

Here are the highlights from Canada’s 6-1 win:

This seems like a good time to share a couple extra sad/angry Kovalchuk photos:

source: AP
Via AP
source: Getty Images
Via Getty