Kings Bench Kovalchuk, Could See Possible Release

Ilya Kovalchuk’s time with the Los Angeles Kings is quickly coming to an end. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the team informed the Russian native that “he will not be in the lineup in the foreseeable future.” He will still be allowed to practice with the club, but will not see any playing time for now (at 7:20 in the video below).

At the morning skate prior to Tuesday’s game, general manager Rob Blake spoke to media members. He wouldn’t go into details about Kovalchuk’s status but answered a reporter’s question if the left winger asked for a trade. “I don’t control that,” he said. “I have no control over that situation.”

Related: NHL Rumors: Kovalchuk, Gretzky, Puljujarvi, Maple Leafs, More

Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s home game against the Minnesota Wild. Here’s a breakdown of the complex sudden chain of events.

Kovalchuk Could Be Traded or Released Fairly Soon

New information about Kovalchuk’s situation was released Wednesday morning on Twitter that could seal his fate:

A few things could happen – Kovalchuk could be traded, released to sign with another NHL team or go back to the Kontinental Hockey League. His final signing bonus worth $5.3 million is payable on Dec. 15 – beyond that, he earns $700,000 in salary for the 2019-20 season. If any team acquires Kovalchuk after Dec. 15, they’ll only pay a prorated amount of the $700,000.

A trade would be the best choice. However, his 35-and-over contract and no-movement clause might not be of interest to anybody. Not to mention, he could veto any trade through the rest of this season. Kovalchuk is past his prime so there might not be a market for him if the Kings decide to take the trade route.

The other option is to release him. He still has another year on his contract with a $6.25 million salary cap hit but is only owed $4.25 million in actual salary. If the Kings buy him out or release him, they are still responsible for paying him $6.25 million, due to his 35-and-over contract.

Los Angeles Kings left wing Ilya Kovalchuk
Los Angeles Kings left winger Ilya Kovalchuk. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

This is a complicated, messy process that could result in a bad separation.

(Short) Review of Kovalchuk’s Season

In 17 games played this season, Kovalchuk has 9 points (3 goals and 6 assists) and is a minus-10. He’s shown some life on offense, has under-performed on defense and hasn’t been the star player the Kings were hoping for.

He was in his prime with the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils (from 2001-2013) but he hasn’t been the same since he left the NHL for Russia and then made his return.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Drew Doughty
Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty and Ilya Kovalchuk (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Following Tuesday’s win against the Wild, head coach Todd McLellan and some of Kovalchuk’s teammates were also vague about Kovalchuk. McLellan did, however, talk about his reaction to the demotion.

“Yeah, Kovy’s on board, and just like the rest of the players he’ll get his opportunity to come back in,” McLellan said. “We have to treat him like any other player, and if Toffoli and Kempe and others that maybe haven’t had really good games have had to come out and watch one, and we treat everyone the same.”

Related: KHL Stands Apart from NHL Under President Chernyshenko

All signs point to him leaving the Kings, whether it’s through trade or by release. The Kovalchuk saga will be updated as new information becomes available.