Ilya Kovalchuk is going to get a chance to win a Stanley Cup.
Montreal will retain half of his salary, according to the Capitals.
Following a slow start to the 2019-20 campaign with the Los Angeles Kings that included three goals and nine points in 17 games, Kovalchuk was released by the team in December. In the process, the three-year, $18.75-million contract that he was in the second season of was terminated.
In early January, the Canadiens signed Kovalchuk to a one-year, $700,000 deal. It was a low-risk, high-reward decision made by Montreal’s general manager Marc Bergevin and for Kovalchuk it was an opportunity to prove that he can still play in the NHL.
Six goals — including a thrilling overtime winner against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 8 — and 13 points in 22 games later, he’s off to attempt to continue his strong play with the top team in the Metropolitan Division.
“Ilya is a talented offensive player who we feel will provide us with additional depth and flexibility up front,” said MacLellan, according to Washington’s press release on the trade. “He is a skilled forward who can make plays and contribute to our offensive game.”
The first overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Kovalchuk was one of the most feared goal scorers of the 2000s. Between 2001 and 2012, he scored at least 29 goals every season during his time with the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils.
He then went to Russia to play over half a decade with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL before signing that aforementioned contract with the Kings in 2018.
The winner of the 2003-04 Maurice “The Rocket” Richard Trophy with Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla, his 442 career regular-season goals ranks fifth among active NHLers.
Despite the fact he’s played nearly 1,000 regular-season games in the NHL — which, again, is quite something considering he went back to Russia to play for an extended period of time when he was 30 — Kovalchuk has only been a part of one significant Stanley Cup run.
He led the Devils in scoring during their journey to the Finals in 2012. New Jersey would lose that series in six games to the Los Angeles Kings.
While Kovalchuk is no longer in Montreal, this trade doesn’t mean it’s goodbye forever. The Canadiens plan to bid on him if he were to remain unsigned once free agency opens up on July 1. According to Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic, Montreal “genuinely loved what he brought to the organization on and off the ice over the past two months.”
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