With the NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m., Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is not waiting until the last minute to get his business done. Washington acquired forward Ilya Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens for their 2020 third-round draft pick. The move was first announced via Twitter.
As part of the deal, Montreal will retain 50-percent of Kovalchuk’s salary meaning he will bring a cap hit of only $350,000 to Washington.
Kovalchuk, who will turn 37 in April, has scored nine goals and 13 assists this season in 39 games. Thirteen of those points, however, have come in 22 games with the Canadiens. He began the season with the Los Angeles Kings, who he signed a three-year contract with in 2018. His contract was bought out by Los Angeles in December making him a free agent which is how he ended up in Montreal.
So which Kovalchuk will the Caps be getting?
Los Angeles brought in Kovalchuk expecting him to be a key piece on an offense management felt was close to competing. He never seemed to fit in with the Kings, however, and as the team plummeted in the standings, Kovalchuk very much became an odd-man-out. There won’t be as much pressure on Kovalchuk in Washington which has an established top-six, but he also will not see as big a role with the Caps as he had with the Canadiens.
Kovalchuk was playing 18:54 per game for Montreal, up from 15:25 in Los Angeles. Kovalchuk likely will get far less playing time in Washington and will likely slide into a third-line role as the team has not had as much offensive production from that line as hoped this year. That would have the added benefit of pushing Carl Hagelin or Richard Panik to a fourth line whose offensive production has completely dried up. Brendan Leipsic, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway have combined for three points since the calendar changed to 2020.
Kovalchuk’s upside is such that the team could potentially plug him into the top six at times when the offense needs a shakeup. In recent weeks when the offense had gone stale, options were limited for what head coach Todd Reirden could do because the top six is pretty much established. There is no Brett Connolly or Andre Burakovsky to carry the third line’s production or who Reirden could plug in to shake up the offense. Now a Capitals offense that already ranks third in the NHL in goals per game has more offensive depth.
“Ilya is a talented offensive player who we feel will provide us with additional depth and flexibility up front,” said MacLellan via the team’s press release. “He is a skilled forward who can make plays and contribute to our offensive game.”
In last year’s playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington got only five goals from its bottom six in seven games. The offense was even more top-heavy this season so the addition of Kovalchuk could prove vital both in the team’s hope to stay atop the Metropolitan Division in the regular season and also in the playoffs.
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