After a tumultuous couple days that have seen his future in Los Angeles come into question, veteran winger Ilya Kovalchuk shared his thoughts on the recent report that his time with the Kings is as good as done.
“I don’t know what was reported. I’m [a] regular player,” Kovalchuk told the media Thursday, according to NHL.com’s Dan Greenspan. “Everybody’s got a healthy scratch, and we’re in last place, so coach (Todd McLellan) has to do something to change things.
“And I’m just here every day for the guys, for the team and if they need me, I’m ready to go.”
Word of Kovalchuk’s potential upcoming departure from L.A. broke Tuesday with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reporting that the Kings had informed the 36-year-old he’d be out of the lineup “for the foreseeable future.”
Friedman expanded on the Kings situation on the latest episode of the 31 Thoughts Podcast alongside Jeff Marek, saying he received word Tuesday that Kovalchuk had “been told that he was no longer going to play for the Kings”
Kings GM Rob Blake and head coach Todd McLellan have been clear in their efforts to hold the club’s veteran group accountable this season, with mainstay Tyler Toffoli also getting benched, and Trevor Lewis nearly receiving the same treatment.
“I think more could be coming,” Friedman told Marek on the podcast. “And they asked for more from Kopitar and Doughty — they said, ‘You guys are staying, you’re our leaders, we need you to set the right tone.’ They just felt last year was totally sideways, and too many players weren’t at the level they needed to be in terms of, not even results, but effort — and if you’ve seen Todd McLellan this year, he’s gone off a couple times on their effort.
“So, they said, ‘This year, we’re going to set a high standard, and if you’re a veteran in particular not setting a high enough standard around our young players and showing them what it takes, you’re going to be out.”
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It’s unclear why exactly the Kings seemed to have initially soured on Kovalchuk, but it appears the situation has changed over the past 48 hours, with the club potentially looking to give the veteran game time once again.
“I was told that initially the Kings’ plan was to say, ‘You’re done,’ and I think there was some pushback,” Friedman said. “I don’t know if it was the agent, I don’t know if it was the League, I don’t know if it was the Players’ Association, but people stood up and said you can’t do that. If he wants to practice, for example, he’s got to practice. So I think it went from, ‘He’s going to be out,’ to, ‘Now we’re kind of going to see where we are.’ And if they are trying to trade him, which they are, they might want to put him in a game to play.”
As it currently stands, the club still has multiple routes to potentially be pursued.
“I think that circumstances have changed, possibly,” Friedman said. “…There was the possibility of him leaving the team, there was the possibility of him staying through December 15th when his bonus payment is due and then leaving the team, there was the possibility of him just staying and either practising or getting the odd game here and there — although I don’t think that’s what the Kings want — and I think there’s also the possibility of, would he agree to mutually terminate [his contract]?
“And even if he does, he’s still on the cap — it’s a 35-plus contract. And I guess the only way he would do that, because he’s owed $4.25 million next year too, is if he gets the money somewhere else.”