DALLAS – When Ilya Kovalchuk was weighing his options for the next three seasons, he did his homework in a pretty unique way. He brought the family to Los Angeles, rented a car and drove around for a week trying to get a feel for the place. That fact-finding mission, plus a serious pitch from Kings president Luc Robitaille, convinced him that the Kings would be the best landing place for him.
“We had about 10 teams that were interested and it was a pretty detailed process,” said Kovalchuk’s agent J.P. Barry. “There were four teams at the top and they all made a good pitch. But in the end he felt comfortable that L.A. would be the best fit for him and his family.”
The Kings, who were almost certainly already in the running for the oldest team, get a 35-year-old player who still has significant offensive skill if his production in the KHL is any indication. Along with Kovalchuk, forwards Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Trevor Lewis and Nate Thompson, defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Alec Martinez and goalie Jonathan Quick are all 30 or older. Barry said he and the Kings are still working on the final details of the deal that can be officially announced July 1, but the average annual salary is $6.25 million on a three-year deal.
That did not seem to deter either Robitaille or GM Rob Blake, who made a significant push to get Kovalchuk 2.0. Prior to signing his last deal, Kovalchuk was courted by the Kings and had kept up a relationship with Robitaille and that was a factor this time around. “It’s safe to say that Luc and Rob were a key part of it,” Barry said of Kovalchuk’s decision to choose the Kings over other finalists, the Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights.
It will be interesting to see how all this works out for the Kings and Kovalchuk. In an era when the league is getting younger and faster, the Kings have tied their future to an older core. And with $76.3 million committed in salaries already, there doesn’t appear to be much room to make any more significant moves. The Kings were swept in the first round by a much faster Golden Knights team and were shut out twice, scoring only three goals in four games. There’s little doubt that Kovalchuk, who had by far his two best seasons in the KHL last season and this season, will help on that front. But how good will he be? Can he be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL at the age of 35? Patrick Marleau, who is three years older and makes the same money, scored 27 last season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, so a 30-goal year for Kovalchuk seems possible.
With Kovalchuk coming to terms, it made July 1 that much less exciting. John Carlson is well on his way to re-signing with the Washington Capitals, which leaves John Tavares as the only hope for some sizzle on free agent day. Barry confirmed that Tavares will meet with five teams during the interview period that beings on Sunday. That is not terribly good news for the New York Islanders, but there’s no reason to believe that they are still not very much in the picture to retain his services. Two summers ago, Steven Stamkos did precisely the same thing and decided to stay in Tampa Bay.
If Tavares does re-sign with the Islanders, that would leave James van Riemsdyk as the most coveted free agent available on July 1. Have fun with that.
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