Things are messy between Ilya Kovalchuk and the Los Angeles Kings, and at this point, it seems more likely than not he will be playing elsewhere by the time February’s trade deadline passes.
The Boston Bruins swung and missed on Kovalchuk last year, but is he worth going after again?
As has been the case the last few seasons, the Kings have been an unmitigated disaster this campaign. And though we’re little over a month into the season, the Kings, under the direction of new head coach Todd McLellan, already have healthy scratched multiple notable players. Kovalchuk was the latest, and it appears that’s going to be the case for a while. According to SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman, Kovalchuk is going to be out of the lineup “for the foreseeable future.”
At this point in his career, Kovalchuk probably isn’t looking to routinely be healthy scratched on a nightly basis. Assuming the Kings will listen to trade offers for the 36-year-old, one has to think the Bruins might at least kick the tires.
Maybe he has something left in the tank, but, of course, this is not your father’s Ilya Kovalchuk.
Prior to getting scratched, Kovalchuk, for the second year in a row, had been relegated to fourth-line duty. He’s slashing 3-6-9 in 17 games this season while averaging 15:25 ice time per game, though he has just two points (both assists) in his last nine games. The trios he’s been on mostly have taken draws in the offensive and neutral zone, so you can understand why L.A. is skeptical of regularly trotting a guy out on the fourth line that they don’t trust in the defensive zone.
All of that makes clear why he’s not fitting with the Kings, though there is reason to believe Don Sweeney might at least think about Kovalchuk.
For one, it’s not uncommon for the Bruins to take a flier on aging wingers (Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla come to mind, though both of those were Peter Chiarelli moves). Kovalchuk also is a right shot, and the Bruins again are looking for a solid right winger to pair with David Krejci, who already has played north of 10 minutes with Danton Heinen, Karson Kuhlman, Charlie Coyle, David Pastrnak, Brett Ritchie and Peter Cehlarik this season.
Heinen has been mostly fine on the second line, so Kovalchuk also could fit with Coyle on the third line if that remained the case. But hitching the proverbial wagon to the idea of a past-his-prime Kovalchuk coming in and miraculously being the stabilizing force the second line needs isn’t exactly prudent. Plus, the Bruins, with Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, boast one of the better fourth lines in the league, so disrupting that for Kovalchuk could largely diminish what makes that trio so useful. Essentially, he’d be stuck as a middle-six winger.
Then there’s the financial aspect. Much of Kovalchuk’s salary this season is tied up in bonuses. This season, he’s making $5.3 million in bonuses with just a $700 thousand base salary, but the cap hit all three years of his contract (he’s in Year 2 right now) is $6.25 million. The Bruins have minimal cap space in the first place, so short of moving out huge amounts of cash, or convincing the Kings to eat some of the money, they couldn’t get a deal done, even though the Kings reportedly will pay out his bonus money by the middle of next month.
And if the Bruins are able to swing a deal that creates a ton of cap space, why use that room on Kovalchuk, especially with tons of players to try to sign next offseason?
For a guy that once upon a time used to be as shot-happy as they come, Kovalchuk should be going hog wild on this Kings team. Instead, he was playing on the fourth line and averaging just over two shots on net per game before getting healthy scratched. Maybe a change of scenery is what he needs, but there’s a lot of risk in going after him, especially considering he has another year left on his deal, which contains a no-movement clause.
For the Bruins, it’s just not worth the risk.
Thumbnail photo via Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports Images