The Los Angeles Kings have ended things with forward Ilya Kovalchuk and it is way past time.
The Kings signed the Russian in July of 2018, inking an absurd term of three years to the tune of a ridiculous $18.75 million. It was a desperate effort for a desperate franchise, a sheer signal of Los Angeles’ refusal to understand that the ship had and has sailed on their brand of hockey.
Kovalchuk was 35 at the time of the signing, so that means the cap hit will serve as a reminder of the Kings’ miscalculation for the remainder of this year and all of the next. The good news is that LA is only on the hook for $700,000 in actual salary. They paid him his last bonus on Sunday, a day before chucking him on unconditional waivers.
Kovalchuk is also on the books for the New Jersey Devils. They saw something special in the Tver native’s eyes and signed him to a mammoth deal in 2010. Remember, too, that the Garden State tried to sign him to a 17-year deal first. The league turned it down, citing violation of the collective bargaining agreement. New Jersey restructured it into the much more workable 15-year deal.
Oh, by the way, the NHL still fined the Devils for even trying to pull the thing off in the first place. They reduced the sentence later, thankfully. And Kovalchuk walked away from that deal and the team three years in. He “retired” from the NHL and spent five years in the KHL with St. Petersburg SKA.
By 2017, Kovalchuk decided he wanted back in. His rights were still owned by the Devils until the age of 35, so he waited it out and re-entered the NHL as an unrestricted free agent.
Seemingly incapable of reading the news, the Kings pounced and signed Kovalchuk. He skated 81 games for Los Angeles before things soured, predictably.
This is familiar ground for the Kings, who’re already contending with a great deal of dead money. There is the Kovalchuk money, the Mike Richards termination and recapture penalty, and the Dion Phaneuf buyout that runs until 2022-2023.
Despite this royal mess on the books, the Kings may have finally learned their lesson. The team simply needs to blow things up and start afresh. There are no quick fixes and they’re going to have to figure out to deepen that shallow prospect pool.
As for Kovalchuk, is he done with the NHL? Or will he find a new dance partner, a team desperate enough to take a pricey run at a secondary scorer? Time will tell, but there are almost always at least a few curious holiday shoppers to be found this time of year.
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