The Los Angeles Kings have parted ways with Ilya Kovalchuk. Honestly, who would have thought it initially? Perhaps everybody. The Kovalchuk sweepstakes took place in June 2018.
It’s somewhat of a mystery why Los Angeles won the race to sign Kovalchuk, knowing that he intended to return to North America to chase a Stanley Cup. It was probably that third season which ultimately lured him to ink his contract with the Kings.
Yes, in that third year, the 2020-21 season, the Kings will have $6.25 million counted against their salary cap, without even having Kovalchuk at all.
What was the main point of the Kings signing Kovalchuk to a three-year deal worth $6.25 million per season? Los Angeles was coming off a playoff season, and they wanted to boost their scoring potential with signing prominent Russian left-winger.
Should the Kings have had the clarity to realize what they needed was a rebuild, rather than an aging star who hadn’t played in North America since the 2012-13 season? Yes, they should.
Ilya Kovalchuk coming to the Kings organization was a pure disaster right from the beginning. Kovalchuk returned to the NHL to win the Stanley Cup, finally, but the Kings offered him a very tiny chance to win the Stanley Cup. After missing the playoffs last year, the Kings are last in the Western Conference standings this season. Let’s not pretend this spot in the standings wasn’t entirely predictable. Indeed it was.
Therefore it makes even less sense for the Kings. It made no sense at the time of the signing and it makes even less sense as of now. Kovalchuk worked out to be a disaster in Los Angeles, and the Kings decided that terminating his contract was the best move to make. Now they have to assume the final two years of his $6.25 million salary-cap hit without even possessing the Russian 36-year-old forward.
Who else entered the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes a year and a half ago? Rumor has it that Dallas, San Jose, Boston, and the Islanders were interested. Just imagine: the Sharks could have signed Kovalchuk instead, and then would have had no space to, perhaps, re-sign Erik Karlsson.
When Ilya Kovalchuk was about to sign a deal upon his return to the NHL, it was sure that one team would mourn it eventually, and the other 30 teams would have something to laugh about. Yet, somehow, someway, the Kings ended up as the team in the middle of the attention here. It’s not the attention you would wish to have, not by any means.
Ultimately, New Jersey Devils fans warned everybody of what might unfold, with no exception to the Kings. After all, they are delighted that from all the people in the world, it’s the Kings suffering from Kovalchuk showing his back and realizing this is not the way. Back in 2012, Kovalchuk played for the Devils in that Stanley Cup Final. Virtually, the Devils came back to punch the Kings seven years later. At least a limited payback for New Jersey.
In conclusion, the Kings should have never signed Kovalchuk. For a team who was, at the time, on the precipice of a rebuild to sign a 35-year-old forward — who hasn’t played in North America for five years — to a three-year deal, it was absurd. The consolation prize? The Kings can afford that salary-cap hit just flow away in the 2020-21 season, and then just pretend like it never happened. If only that was possible.