EL SEGUNDO, CALIF.—Veteran forward Ilya Kovalchuk left the Los Angeles Kings and was placed on waivers Monday after a mutually disappointing 81-game stint with the last-place club.
The Kings made the move “for the purpose of terminating his contract with the club,” they said in a statement.
The 36-year-old Kovalchuk hasn’t played for Los Angeles since Nov. 9. Kovalchuk went on waivers one day after he received a $2.65-million (U.S.) bonus, which leaves his remaining salary for the season at the league-minimum $700,000.
Kovalchuk’s decision to officially leave the Kings should speed up the process of severing ties between the Russian star and the struggling team that seemed to regret signing him shortly after the deal was reached last year.
Kovalchuk is expected to become an unrestricted free agent by the end of the week. The moves also mean Kovalchuk is walking away from $4.25 million in salary for next season.
The former 50-goal scorer and three-time all-star rejoined the NHL with the Kings in 2018, agreeing to a three-year contract worth $18.75 million after a five-year stint in Russia. Los Angeles beat out several NHL teams interested in Kovalchuk’s services, but became increasingly focused on youth and rebuilding while its losses mounted last year.
Kovalchuk had 16 goals and 18 assists in 64 games last season, but struggled for consistent ice time and a cohesive role with the Kings, particularly after a coaching change from John Stevens to Willie Desjardins.
The Kings made another coaching change last summer, and Kovalchuk didn’t fare much better under Todd McLellan.
He had three goals and six assists in 17 games this season, but has been held out of games by the Kings as a healthy scratch for the past six weeks while they attempted to trade him. Kovalchuk still skated and occasionally travelled with the Kings over the past month.
Kovalchuk has said he wants to stay in the NHL if he becomes a free agent, but he likely could get a lucrative deal to return to the Kontinental Hockey League.
Kovalchuk began his North American career as the No. 1 overall pick by Atlanta in 2001, and he has scored 40 goals in six NHL seasons. He got a 15-year, $100-million deal with New Jersey in 2010, but left for Russia in 2013.
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