Kovalchuk’s NHL Return Finally Halted

For Ilya Kovalchuk, his return to the NHL from the KHL was less like Jaromir Jagr and more like Nikolai Zherdev. This is due to the report out that the LA Kings will bench Kovalchuk indefinitely, as the 36-year-old winger is working on yet another underwhelming season after returning from the KHL.

Shockingly enough, the Kings sit last in the League in points with the fewest wins.

I think there were a lot of people who were treading lightly when it came to Kovalchuk’s intentions of coming back to the NHL after five-and-a-half season in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg. However, his output in the KHL with 138 goals and 327 points in 298 games in the KHL made people think that he could come back to the NHL guns ablazing– especially after having two 30-goal seasons prior to signing the three-year deal with the Kings.

Shockingly enough, the oldest team in the league couldn’t get the success that Kovalchuk had in Russia to translate to their roster in a year…and now into year two, the same old stuff. Hell, after Kovalchuk got snippy when his lack of production of himself and the team made him a healthy scratch late last year.

God only know what he’ll say after this one.

The Kings, in and of themselves, are a mess. They only bright light may be seeing Drew Doughty body people and his little petty feud with the Tkachuks– mainly Matthew in Calgary. All around, they are a mess– 28th in goals-per-game, worst in goals-allowed, 29th on the power play, 30th on the PK; but at least they have the most shots on goal in the league…so that’s something. That said, they’ll make any back-up look like Martin Brodeur on any given night.

The Kovalchuk signing was an ill-advised one, especially since Kovalchuk had never played in the Western Conference, which many would agree is a much different animal than the East in terms of style of play and travel. But when a shiny toy with potential becomes available, you can’t blame them for trying. You can blame them for the three-year contract with a no-movement clause, which is also a 35+ contract…but we shouldn’t point the finger at anyone directly whatsoever, right??

Lazy Toronto Sports Media’s New Leafs Narrative

On a cold November night, a lone person is seen walking into a graveyard in Southern Ontario. Under one arm, Geiger counter; under the other, a Ouija board. They stop at a grave site and lay the board down, setting the Geiger on the headstone. When they get a reading from the counter, they ask; “As a former champion, what do you think the Maple Leafs need to win the Stanley Cup??”

I would not be surprised if one of the Toronto media scribes goes this route on their parade of asking that question to former Cup champions. It happened with Alex Ovechkin, it happened with Drew Doughty, it’s happened with Eddie Shack and odds are it’ll happen to anyone who’s name has been etched on the silver trophy. My biggest surprise is that Doughty didn’t rebuke what he said despite the fact there was a recording of him– but that’s another piece for another time.

The fact that the narrative now when it comes to the Leafs is asking former champions what needs to be done and mimic them rather than actually addressing the problems on their own is a bit odd. As my co-host Jonny P said this week, at this point just plan the parade now and maybe they’ll luck out and win the thing. What works for one team or one player doesn’t necessarily work for the rest of the NHL, especially not the Leafs who have plenty of dynamic players who may or may not be gelling as much as people had hoped or thought.

Let’s not forget the idea of people already are calling for a “Come to Jesus” kind of talk to happen with Auston Matthews. There’s always a constant panic in Leafs land when this team who was supposed to be destined for greatness (in their minds) isn’t taking the league by storm and steamrolling over everyone. They see the shiny things that are up front, but completely disregard their lack of defense– even with Tyson Barrie back there– and then have to wonder what the problem is when they haven’t won the Presidents Trophy by late-January.

But if you fire Mike Babcock, that’ll fix everything and make things better…except it won’t. Would it help a little?? Perhaps, but what’s the replacement for him and will they be any better with their scheme in order to make the defense better??

I digress– the point is that the new narrative set out that scribes are talking to other players about what needs to be fixed with the team they cover is not only lazy, but unnecessary for the task at hand. You get into a player scrum or request to talk to a player for purpose, more often than not, when you’re writing about a topic. Sometimes you’re in a scrum for a tidbit that drops and make a story out of that– sure– but to ask them about the team their facing and what they need to do to win a championship like that player gives a good goddamn about any other team winning a championship.

However, it’s instant click-bait material and something that the rest of the Toronto media will eat up like Tiny Tim with the gruel because they need the hot takes to fill the hours of radio and TV they use to cover the Leafs to appease that fan-base.

Hell, maybe it’s time to talk about how the Bruins are being so dominant that the Leafs could actually make it past the first round because they won’t be in a position to face Boston right off the bat. Maybe actually press GM Kyle Dubas about Babcock’s future and what’s needed on the blue line to make the team more viable as a contender when push comes to shove. Maybe actually go against the MLSE overloads and have an opinion that doesn’t go with the grain and actually has some kind of meaning to it.

…nah, that’s too much work and would take too much character from Toronto writers to do. Yeah, just ask other– more successful– players about how to fix the Leafs and see how that works out in the long-run.

Better Know An Affiliate: Los Angeles Kings

AHL: Ontario Reign (25-33-6-4, 7th in Pacific, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Reign were born out of the initial western swing, as the Kings moved the Manchester Monarchs to Ontario after 14 years. Prior to that, the Lowell Lock Monsters were at the helm, which came after the Springfield Falcons– the fourth time the Kings had an affiliate in Springfield with the Kings and Indians being the other teams. Two of the Kings longest affiliations intersected with the Phoenix Roadrunners and New Haven Nighthawks for a few seasons in the early ’90s. And I’d be foolish not to mention the Long Beach Ice Dogs for three years in the late ’90s.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: Despite an injury that kept him out all but four games last season, Gabriel Vilardi will be on the trek from Ontario to LA, especially given the depth of the center spot in LA. Also, don’t be surprised if Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen swap spots back and forth backing up Jonathan Quick.

ECHL: Unfortunately, the Kings’ secondary affiliate in Manchester had to close down shop after this past season due to declining attendance after their move from the AHL to the ECHL. Other secondary includes the Ontario Reign, Reading Royals, Trenton Titans, Mississippi SeaWolves, and Richmond Renegades.

2018-19 Season Preview….Kind Of: Western Conference Edition

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Half-assed part 2, let’s go.

The Central Division is an interesting one. For the longest time, it was the Chicago Blackhawks’ playground, but now– it’s almost kind of wide open. The Winnipeg Jets have seemingly found their formula with Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and friends. Their march to the Western Conference finals could have been the coming out party they need. So long as Connor Hellebuyck can keep the good time rolling– maybe this is now a division that belongs to North of the Border for a couple of season.

For the Blackhawks– we’re in the downturn of the dynasty. Despite of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being there and being in their prime ages– the fact their goaltending in Corey Crawford isn’t always healthy and the depth is suspect at best; the former Dynasty could be in the start of their stagnation moving ahead.

Hard to forget about the Nashville Predators, who are in all-in mode this year as much as they have been. This is pivotal year for the team, especially when they look at what to do with impending UFA Pekka Rinne and how they’ll juggle his time with Juuse Saros’ time in net. Aside from that, they have a defensive corp that one of, if not the tops in the league; their offense is full of top tier talent, and overall– this is a team that’s ready to go and make another big push for the Conference final again this year.

The rest of the division is suspect at best, starting the with Minnesota Wild– who seem to be more of the same. Bruce Boudreau could be on a short leash with new GM Paul Fenton, and with the team in place– I don’t know if that leash could get shorter. Sure, Devan Dubnyk is back, but he can only do so much. The offense is really hit and miss, the star players being in the line-up is hit and miss, and there’s plenty of question marks in the State of Hockey.

Add the St. Louis Blues to that mix, only because of Jake Allen. There’s no Carter Hutton to bail him out anymore and he’ll have to actually show he’s a top goalie in this league. He’ll have a lot of tools in front of him with Vlad Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Jaden Schwartz with Alex Pieterangelo and Colton Parayko on his defense…there’s no reason why Allen shouldn’t be successful in spite of himself and his own short-comings.

I don’t know what to think of the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars. The Stars could be a little easier to explain and deal with, as Ben Bishop– if he’s healthy all season– could help them steal a few games here and there. The offense is steady with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn up there, the defense however, is the question. Stephen Johns is out to start the season, which means Marc Methot and John Klingberg are going to have to shoulder a lot of the load– which could lead to easy burn out. The Avalanche now have Philipp Grubauer as the potential replacement for Semyon Varlamov when he should get injured or have his stats drop off, the team was able to rally around Matt Duchene getting traded, and might have an underrated defense against the rest of the league. The offense is one line, which means they’ll need to find some kind of secondary scoring to actually be across the board successful and get back to the playoffs once again.


Will anyone discount the Vegas Golden Knights this year?? Most likely, yes. The whole “Bet you can’t do it again” crowd will be out, but with the additions of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny; the depth of offense is much better. While there will be doubters of M-A Fleury’s heroics and William Karlsson’s scoring prowess, the Knights are making sure they aren’t just a one-hit wonder.

Their toughest challenge will probably come from the San Jose Sharks, who have their best shot at getting into the Stanley Cup Finals with the addition of Erik Karlsson. The former Ottawa defenseman bolsters a blue line with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, while Joe Thornton is back on the ice and probably much quicker without his beard anymore. Martin Jones has seen his win number decline over the past three seasons, but with an upgrade in front of him, you can bet he’ll have another 30+ win season.

With a healthy Jonathan Quick, the LA Kings were a solid team despite getting bounced in the first round again. Anze Kopitar was far and away the best player and may need to be so again to get the Kings back to the playoffs and maybe advance past the first match-up. That 70s Line will have to be a little be more prominent, though to be honest– losing Jeff Carter most of the season didn’t help things as much.

The Anaheim Ducks are going to have to get all they can out of their depth if they want to make the playoffs again. While John Gibson hasn’t been the best at keeping pucks out, the offense didn’t give him much to work with, as they had to lowest goals-for total of any playoff team last season. With Corey Perry out to start the season, as well; old man Getzlaf will have to rally the troops and hope they don’t get run over.

Of the Canadian teams in this division, the one with the most hope could be from Alberta. Whether it’s the Flames or the Oilers is yet to be seen. The Oilers need to figure out which team was the mirage– was it the team who made the playoffs in 2017 or the team that really stunk up the joint last season. Aside from Connor McDavid, there wasn’t much to write home about. However, the hard-on people have for Ty Rattie with McDavid is almost insane levels of silly– it’s almost a Sedins or Crosby situation with how people are infatuated with his play.

The Flames are an odd duck. They have the talent up front to get into the playoffs with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and to a lesser extend Sam Bennett. However, with Bill Peters now at the helm, who knows what can happen. If they’re going to sink to a Carolina level, then it’ll happen quick, but the additions of James Neal and Elias Lindholm up front could bring more attention, while Noah Hanifin could help Mark Giordano on the blue line. If only Mike Smith can get back to some kind of non-sieve form, then they could surprise people.

Not a surprise is the Vancouver Canucks, who really….I don’t know. They have some top-end young talent in Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and others, but the real key is waiting for offensive defenseman Quinn Hughes to come from Michigan to Vancouver. If the rebuild is going to happen– it will be around Boeser and Hughes, maybe even Thatcher Demko when he gets the go-ahead to be the Canucks starter. It’s a waiting game for this team.

That leaves us with Arizona. The trade for Alex Galchenyuk is going to help them a whole lot, it’s a matter of managing injuries. Antti Raanta going down early last year hurt and it seems like there’s not much for goalie depth just yet for the Coyotes who could come in and stop the bleeding. Michael Grabner will add speed and a forechecking threat, Clayton Keller continues to grow, and Mario Kempe could surprise people if given the chance. The Coyotes may even push for a wild card…if they can stay healthy.