Kings’ Ilya Kovalchuk to miss four weeks with ankle woes

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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

Sorting out the sad mess between Kovalchuk, Kings

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Even at 35, the only logical explanation for Ilya Kovalchuk playing just six minutes and 20 seconds for the moribund Los Angeles Kings would be that he was hurt.

OK, if it was later in the season – in an alternate universe where this team is … good – maybe the Kings would be resting Kovalchuk heading into the postseason. Instead, still-new Kings head coach Willie Desjardins admitted that it was a coach’s decision during Los Angeles’ 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.

LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen passes along quotes where both sides are straining to say as close to the right things as possible.

“I don’t know how to be on the bench because that’s the first time in my career I sat there for the third period, but I’m that kind of guy – I don’t care, we were winning, and that’s all that matters,” Kovalchuk said.

You can practically feel Kovalchuk saying those things through gritted teeth, and Desjardins’ comments got pretty weird, as if he’s expecting Kovalchuk to snap at any moment.

” … He’s in a tough one,” Desjardins said. “He’s got to score on his chances, he’s got to create some offense, but like I said before, when I call his name, he’s excited to go. It hasn’t happened yet that I’ve called him and he’s like kind of where he doesn’t care. That’s a good sign. That’s a tough role for a guy that’s played so well in the NHL. That’s a tough role for him.”

Look, Kovalchuk isn’t perfect. No one could reasonably expect that from him at his age, particularly on a struggling team that’s playing a style that simply isn’t in rhythm with an NHL that’s getting faster and more skilled.

But that “we won the game” shield is flimsy for a team that’s solidly last in the league in standings points, and it’s patently absurd that such an offense-needy group isn’t finding every excuse to get Kovalchuk on the ice.

And, uh, judging by his linemates (Nate Thompson and Sheldon Rempal, who is not a created player in NHL 19 franchise mode), it sounds like things aren’t thawing out just yet.

Even with this nine-game pointless drought in mind, Kovalchuk remains tied for the Kings’ scoring lead alongside Drew Doughty with 14 points.

Just about every number feels like a flashing sign pointing to the Kings leaning more on Kovalchuk (or trading Kovalchuk), not less. Consider that:

  • Their power play success rate is an abysmal 15.3 percent, the fourth-worst mark in the NHL so far in 2018-19.
  • The Kings’ 50 goals scored ranks last in the league, and their 2.17 goals-per-game average is only better than their pals in Anaheim.
  • Sure, Los Angeles often marches to the slow beat of its own drum, which used to mean hogging the puck. That’s not really working out so well, as they’re allowing three more shots per game (31.2) than they’re generating (28.1).
  • Maybe Desjardins was placed in a position to fail with the Vancouver Canucks, but his reputation as “Whiteboard Willie” didn’t exactly remain ironclad. We’re talking about a coach who only saw one Canucks team make the playoffs in three seasons, and never won a playoff series. His current coaching record is under .500 (113-116-27). Should a lame duck coach really be estranging such an important player, and for what sure looks like minimal-at-best gains?
  • More on those minimal gains: it really might be true that the Kings’ best chance to win is to play low-event hockey, which likely wouldn’t mean optimizing Kovalchuk. (Although, even then, he could have some use on the power play and in offensive zone starts.) But, really, what’s the ceiling on such a gameplan for the Kings? At some point you’re just fighting against reality.

The trading question

Honestly, if I were in Kovalchuk’s position or running the Kings, a trade seems like it would be the wisest idea for both sides. Sometimes it’s best just to admit that you made a mistake and call for a mulligan.

Simply put, the Kings could very well scrounge together a respectable bid for a playoff berth, but you’d really need to be sipping the Kool-Aid to believe that this aging bunch really has a shot at the Stanley Cup. Just about everything broke the Kings’ way in 2017-18, and that run ended with them getting absolutely smoked by the Vegas Golden Knights.

(That was a tight series scoring-wise, but my goodness did the Kings ever look overmatched.)

Kovalchuk is staring down the barrel of a nightmare situation: playing on a bad team and possibly warming the bench for the first time in his career.

Now, it’s undeniable that Kovalchuk chose the Kings as his free agent destination, and probably for reasons beyond winning. While Kovalchuk isn’t getting Lebron James’ marketing opportunities, the friendly weather of Los Angeles likely weighed heavily in Kovalchuk’s thought process.

Even a hit-or-miss coach like Desjardins will probably get the memo and play Kovalchuk at a more respectable level soon, too. At minimum, management should demand as much, even if a trade ends up happening. You don’t exactly want to flatten his value altogether, do you?

With a full no-movement clause through the first two seasons and the option of providing a seven-team list in 2020-21 (via Cap Friendly), it would be Kovalchuk’s call to accept a trade. A potential team would carry the additional risks of Kovalchuk’s deal being a 35+ contract, too.

But, really, why wouldn’t Kovalchuk want to shake the Etch-a-Sketch here? This is a miserable situation that might not get much worse, and there are other teams with better chances of contending and warmer climates. Heck, if the former Atlanta Thrasher were to land with another Sunbelt team, he’d be able to keep a larger portion of that $6.25M cap hit.

The Kings should be looking to the future as much as possible, and dealing Kovalchuk – again, if he wanted it – could really allow them to stockpile some assets.

Consider a scenario where the Kings take on a bad contract to make a Kovalchuk trade work, with the bonus being a better return? What if the Kings took David Clarkson‘s contract off of Vegas’ hands, offered the Flyers a jolt of life while absorbing Andrew MacDonald‘s $5M, or allowed the Penguins to admit that the Jack Johnson signing was a free agent flub of their own?

The organization seems ready to make more changes, as Elliotte Friedman briefly alluded to in the latest edition of “31 Thoughts” for Sportsnet:

11. Last week, I reported that Los Angeles wanted to see how things changed after hiring Willie Desjardins and trading Tanner Pearson for Carl Hagelin. That patience has expired.

***

None of this is to say that a Kovalchuk trade is necessarily pressing or likely. He may simply refuse to play anywhere else. Considering his age, Kovalchuk might just want to stay put.

Imagining him in other places is fun, especially when no one’s having fun in this current L.A. situation.

One thing’s clear: if Desjardins really wants to keep this job for a while, he better press the right buttons with Kovalchuk and others. So far … not so good.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Scheifele, Morrissey explain what Oates will bring to LA Kings

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WINNIPEG — Mark Scheifele texts back and forth with Adam Oates nearly every day.

The two review clips Oates has cut for the Winnipeg Jets forward, and Oates offers some ideas of small adjustments Scheifele can make in practice to help better translate to game nights.

As one of several clients of Oates Sports Group, a boutique hockey agency that offers a wide range of amenities for players — from skill development right up to player representation — it’s Scheifele’s tight-knit relationship with Oates as they work on the finer points of his game that’s turned the 25-year-old into one of the NHL’s elite centers.

“I think that’s one of the biggest things, that he gives you active, constructive things to work on a daily basis than just going out and skating,” Scheifele said. “Skate with a purpose, work on the things that are going to benefit your game, in-game.”

Scheifele linked up with Oates three years ago in an effort to further his on-ice product. What drew him — and likely a list of 20 or so other NHLers to the Hockey Hall of Famer — was Oates’ history in the league, an illustrious career and one of the best to ever do it.

“That’s first and foremost,” Scheifele said. “He’s one of the best passers of all time. He’s felt it. He knows what it is like to be in certain situations. He can still actually, physically do it, one thing I think he still does really well. And he’s really smart, a hard-working hockey mind that understands the game so well. He can watch it and read it at a different pace than everyone else.”

[RELATED: Oates joins Kings as skills and development consulatant

Oates was a prolific forward who terrorized defenseman. The slick-skating, pinpoint passer amassed 1,079 assists and 1,420 points in 1,337 games during his 19-year tenure. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.

Oates’ ability to slice his way through defenders drew Josh Morrissey in, too.

Winnipeg’s top shutdown rearguard has made a name for himself when it comes keeping the NHL’s best off the scoresheet on a nightly basis — something that rarely happened to Oates.

“He’s one of the best forwards of all time, he knows how to beat you,” Morrissey said. “He knows what forwards are trying to do to you and knows how to try and avoid that kind of thing.”

Being the burgeoning defenseman that he is, Morrissey wanted in on the tutelage. The 23-year-old claims Oates’ advice is largely rudimentary.

“Defensively, just a few little skating things, avoiding injury by having your head up more, controlling the puck more by changing your stick a little bit,” Morrissey said. “Things to make your game more efficient.”

Supplementary to one’s overall game?

“Exactly,” he said. “It’s like a strength coach or a nutritionist that you have back home during the summer.”

Morrissey said there was a controversy a few years ago surrounding whether teams liked their players working with Oates or not.

“The thing I can attest to, personally, from having worked with him, is that it has nothing to do with anything systematically, it’s just little skills and things like that,” Morrissey said.

Oates isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel, per se. He’s just trying to perfect it.

So why are two of Winnipeg’s stars talking about Oates?

Mostly because I asked them to after the Los Angeles Kings hired Oates as a consultant for skills development and to help the team’s ailing power play earlier this week, just two days after they fired head coach John Stevens and assistant Don Nachbaur, replacing them with Willie Desjardins and Marco Sturm.

But also to get some insight as to why a team as a whole might want his services.

Both are happy to see an important asset to their careers find work with the Kings.

“I personally think it was a great play by L.A.,” Scheifele said of bringing Oates aboard. “Smart play there by them. He’s got a lot of knowledge.”

Judging by some of the names under Oates’ wing — Steven Stamkos, Jack Eichel and Max Pacioretty, to name a few — it seems like a bona fide no-brainer.

Morrissey said it’s a running joke among those who train with Oates that they wish they could just keep him to themselves.

“Because he’s so smart,” Morrissey said. “But I’m happy for him getting that role.”

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kings, Wild hold moment of silence after recent shooting

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“Enough.”

That was the united message from the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild before puck drop on Thursday.

Players and coaches all held signs that simply read, ‘Enough,’ as a moment of silence was held for the 12 victims who were tragically killed in a mass shooting on Wednesday at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, California, a 40-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles.

“We want to help amplify the message that enough is enough,” Kings President Luc Robitaille said before Thursday’s game. “We cannot accept these incidents as a new reality.”

Robitaille was on the Kings’ broadcast before the game and said that Wednesday’s events can’t be lost on peoples’ minds the next day.

“It’s not enough for every sports organization to just do a moment of silence. We need to do more,” he said.

Classy stuff by both the Kings and the Wild.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Adam Oates joins Kings as skills and development consultant

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The Los Angeles Kings are taking a multi-faceted approach to turn their season around.

Just two days after firing head coach John Stevens and assistant coach Don Nachbaur, replacing them with Willie Desjardins and Marco Sturm, the Kings are now bringing on Hockey Hall of Famer and former head coach Adam Oates, the CEO of Oates Sports Group, as a consultant to try and right the ship.

According to the Kings, the 20-year NHL veteran will provide “advice regarding player skills evaluation and development” while also helping the team with their ailing power play.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Oates will still be able to continue working with the players he helps train, including Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos and Winnipeg Jets forwards Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

[Related: Kings fire John Stevens]

Oates Sports Group runs a hockey boutique hockey agency specializing in a wide gamut of player services, including training and skill development, player representations and marketing and public relations.

Los Angeles’ problems on the ice run deep after a 4-8-1 start to the season. A summer move that saw Ilya Kovalchuk return to the NHL hasn’t paid off and the Kings are now in the midst of a long-term absence of starting goaltender Jonathan Quick.

Oates isn’t going to come in and turn things around overnight, but with what he’s been able to do with some of the superstars he trains around the league, there’s no harm in the Kings trying to leverage that for their own roster.

The Kings are back in action on Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks, Desjardins’ first game as Los Angeles’ new bench boss.

MORE: Kings’ problems run much deeper than their coach


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck