According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, Ilya Kovalchuk will be granted his release by the Kings, with more details expected to emerge shortly. A Kings spokesman offered no comment on Kovalchuk’s situation. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Tuesday that Kovalchuk, 36, will be a healthy scratch for the foreseeable future but will be permitted to practice with the team.
Kovalchuk signed a three-year, $18.75-million deal in July 2018. His tenure in Los Angeles began well, with the 2004 Rocket Richard Trophy-winner returning from a successful five-year stint in the KHL to record 14 points in his first 14 games with the Kings. But a coaching change in November 2018, which saw Willie Desjardins replace John Stevens, resulted in a reduced role for Kovalchuk. He was a healthy scratch for several games, and when he did play he sometimes received less than 10 minutes of ice time. By mid-season, Kovalchuk had gone from playing alongside Anze Kopitar to skating on Nate Thompson’s wing, and by season’s end, Kovalchuk’s 16:14 average ice time was the lowest of his career. He was often left off the power play, and it became clear Desjardins didn’t trust him.
The Kings’ hiring of coach Todd McLellan, Desjardins’ replacement and Los Angeles’ third coach since the beginning of the 2018-19 campaign, was supposed make things right. And early, it appeared that was the case, with Kovalchuk producing six points in his first four games while receiving middle-six minutes. But Kovalchuk has mustered just one goal and three points in his past 13 games and has seen than 15 minutes of ice time in six of those contests.
Reports out of Los Angeles late last season, throughout the summer and into the early part of the current campaign suggested Kovalchuk was on the trade block. Moving the veteran winger would be remarkably difficult, however. He has $6.25-million cap hit and a full no-movement clause gives Kovalchuk control over his destination.
Once Kovalchuk’s contract is terminated by the Kings, which will not offer Los Angeles cap relief as he’s signed to a 35-plus contract, he will be presented with several options: he could return to the KHL, but he will also be free to join another NHL organization, likely on a deal worth significantly less as a low-risk, high-reward option for an offensively starved team.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.