The Los Angeles Kings have to be moving in another direction, right? Dismal season, already moved some pieces in Tanner Pearson and Jake Muzzin. Making Ilya Kovalchuk available at the NHL trade deadline is intriguing.
Could a team looking for veteran presence with some scoring ability consider the 35-year old as a scoring option? He would have to waive a no-movement clause, and carries another two seasons on his contract. But is he worth the gamble?
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Don’t let the Kings last place futility disillusion the optics on the former Devils standout. Some of the lack of production can be directly attributed to team performance pushing down the Russian. The struggle to score goals has been ongoing for multiple seasons now, and even when they were competing for their string of Stanley Cups, scoring was scarce. A staunch defensive presence covered up a lack of elite scoring talent.
In 2017-18, Dustin Brown felt a resurgence, courtesy of a 21 goal 5v5 effort -- 28 overall – shooting 12.6%. That season marked a 4-year high in GF/60 (2.3) with expected GF/60 (xGF/60) of 2.17). The 151 goals outperformed their expected goals of 142.7, while firing at a four year high of 7.8%.
Shot metrics don’t mimic these findings, however, firing fewer shot attempts (CF/60).
So, what was the answer for that uptick in scoring?
The Kings signed Ilya Kovalchuk, five years removed from the NHL, plying the trade with St. Petersburg in the KHL. And, he ripped up the KHL, even after the age of 30. He returns at 35 years of age, trying to pick up where he left off, while attempting to fulfill the hefty expectations of a $6.25 million cap hit. There are two more seasons after this one.
To get a feeling of Kovalchuk’s production, the key metrics are shooting rates – since style of play can effect on-ice performance. The chart below separates the Russian’s shot rates per 60 over the last handful of NHL seasons. Notice the uptick in scoring chances for per 60 and high danger chances for per 60 this season in comparison to the Devils tenure.
The raw data contains some key indicators. For instance, he’s earned a point on 80% of the on-ice goals, which is fairly close to his career average of 77.7%.
He’s generating more scoring chances for per 60 despite there being a considerable dip in on-ice rates. The same goes for high danger scoring chances, generating 3.2 per 60, with the on-ice HDCF/60 (a team level metric) subsisting as one the lowest of his NHL career.
What this means, is he’s generating more individual chances and providing scoring support, but with the carousel of inferior support scoring talent, the production lacks. A 10-game absence mid-season due to an ankle injury hasn’t slowed him down either.
Looking beyond the straight box scores and goals and assists production, He’s making an impact in scoring chance areas and in high danger scoring areas. A skilled and creative player – with the skating ability to maintain/operate at NHL pace is an intriguing option for a GM looking for secondary scoring – albeit at a hefty price. The experiment in Los Angeles may have ended less than a third of way in, but an established team in contention could likely absorb his skill in a support role, not a main piece, relied upon for scoring.
A parallel is in the expectation laid upon Patrick Marleau when he signed an expensive 3-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was clear he wouldn’t have great on-ice production, but could add a veteran presence and stabilizing force for the young Toronto roster. Kovalchuk adds a scoring element missing from Marleau, and could step into a more prominent role in case of injury.
Kovy’s 5v4 production has taken a bit of a dip as well – once again attributable to the Kings futility. There is a potential tell in the distance shot metrics while Kovalchuk is on the ice during the powerplay. The table below outlines at 5v4, the Kings are providing less high danger and medium danger shot attempts per 60 minutes, with a notable increase in low danger shooting. More peripheral shooting, less high danger chances. It’s no wonder there’s less scoring, with more attention coming from the outside or perimeter rather than hard shooting areas. Could a little positional change with an upgrade in teammates blow up his power play production?
Matching up Kovalchuk’s production by average age, very few 35 year old forwards still produce at a decent clip – at 5v5. Mikko Koivu is injured and Jason Spezza is a shell of former self, leaving Thomas Vanek as a lone comparable. There’s a clear distinction in shot metrics – while Vanek is the consummate sign and trade at the deadline player. Both players have contributed in about 80% of the on-ice goals.
The 34 year olds contain notable names like Joe Pavelski, Zach Parise and Eric Staal at the top, Frans Nielsen, Valtteri Filppula and teammate Dustin Brown. Kovalchuk is comparable, or bettering their metrics outright. He clearly has more to give and could be a real prized catch.
At some point, both the Kings and an interested club may consummate a transaction out of necessity should the primary targets prove elusive. Another GM may want to counter a recent move within the division or Conference.
The existing relationship between Lou Lamoriello, as suggested by Elliotte Friedman in his 31 Thoughts edition, and the surging success of the New York Islanders, makes for an intriguing reunion possibility.
Enjoy the trade deadline season and make sure to check in with Rotoworld for immediate analysis on every breaking trade!