Communication key in Kovalchuk reset, “but we’ve got to get buy-in, too,” Blake says - LA Kings Insider

Ilya Kovalchuk, whose first year in Los Angeles began with 14 points in his 14 games, ended with 20 points over his next 50 amid reduced minutes, healthy scratches, an ankle infection, and, ultimately, headlines depicting an uncomfortable relationship with Willie Desjardins.

There were some light flirtations from East Conference teams at and before the trade deadline as he described a desire “to do whatever is good for the team” when asked whether he would waive his no-movement clause. Again! Not the greatest headlines this season. But there exists at this juncture the essential question: was Kovalchuk held back this season because of perceived misuse by Desjardins? Or is he simply more of a free-wheeling type who gets by on instinct and pure skill rather than the NHL’s highly systemized and positioned approach? (Kovalchuk was not present to answer questions during Monday “exit day” meetings with the media.)

The secondary metrics don’t give him the benefit of the doubt. His possession rates were behind most of his teammates under Stevens, a 13-game sample in which he was on the ice for 3.2 five-on-five goals every 60 minutes. That rate came down slightly under Desjardins, but his CF%Rel fell to -4.4% at five-on-five amidst a 51-game account under Desjardins in which he accounted for only four points in 90 minutes of power play time.

But this is a player who arrived in Los Angeles with 816 points in 816 NHL games while attached to a contract that carries an additional two years with a $6.25-million AAV. Per Cap Friendly, he’s due a $5.3-million bonus on July 1, after which he’ll only be owed $4.95-million of actual salary as the remaining two years of his contract are paid out. And, given some of what was shown early in the season under Stevens, there’s still very much an overwhelming amount of skill in his game, and even while he was not on the same page as Desjardins, he still showed, as the coach was quick to highlight, the same passion and excitement to score and succeed long associated with his play.

Barring any player movement, it will be a necessary task of the new coaching staff to communicate to Kovalchuk how they envision his role and expect him to execute it. Rob Blake also plans to communicate in the coming weeks.

“That will be the communication with him and through there – and the right minutes and the right usage and where – but again, the accountability part for a coach is ice time. It’s all they have, so there’s a fine balance,” Blake said. “But we’ve got to get buy-in, too.”

“I think we ended up, Kovy was second on our team in power play minutes as a forward, sixth as a forward overall, so the ice time was there. He had a couple games where it was low and we talked a lot about that. Offensively, he didn’t produce at every time there for us. Do we need a little buy-in on structure? Sure. Whatever the new structure and style that the head coach comes in with has to be communicated with fully to Kovy. But that’s why I said there’s a process there. We’ve really got to get on the same page here going forward.”

It’s going to be interesting to see if the push under a new coach will be to reset and play Kovalchuk with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown again, which would put a skilled player less driven by structure alongside two who might not have exploded statistically under Darryl Sutter’s airtight systems play – particularly in the case of Brown – but won a pair of championships with smothering pressure and physical defensive sturdiness.

“I’m not telling anybody any secrets, but I think him and Willie obviously had some issues, which I think [exacerbated] a lot of the other minor things that we can kind of work through,” Brown said. “I think the idea was for him to play with me and Kopi right away, and then I got hurt, and things changed, and then I come back and things changed. But he was playing really well under Johnny. I think he was excited to come to the rink, and it’s probably a question for him, but the flip side of that I think is maybe not this year, we have to get back to … priding ourselves on our defensive play. We didn’t bring Chucky in to play defense, but that’s a big part of how we play here.”

Adam Pantozzi/NHLI

Rob Blake, on communicating with Ilya Kovalchuk:
I’m going to sit with Kovy in the next few weeks. So, basically the process is I want to get what he wants out of this and what I want out of it. It’s different than what we talked about last summer, no doubt about that. I need buy-in from Kovy though, structural-wise, for sure. And I think a lot of that will be around the new staff and the communication with them, and exactly what the role is going to be, and we’ll go forward from there. But did it end well? No, not at all. There’s a process to get keep that going in the right direction.

Blake, on what his expectation was with Kovalchuk defensively:
I didn’t think he’d be a defensive specialist by any means. And again, there will be a different style or system in place. The head coach will come in and dictate that. But it has to be communicated with the player, and the player has to be on the same page. If they’re not, it doesn’t work.

Drew Doughty, on what it was like playing with Ilya Kovalchuk:
He fit in great. He did. Ilya is a special player. He’s very talented offensively. But in the L.A. organiazation, we expect you to play great both ways, and not that he doesn’t give it his all on the defensive end of the puck, but sometimes that’s not his specialty. His specialty is the offensive side of the game, so I think that’s part of the reason why you saw him on the fourth line.

John McCreary/Icon Sportswire

— Lead photo via Harry How/Getty Images

Adrian Kempe

#9 | 6′ 2″ | 195 lb | Age: 21

Born: September 13, 1996
Birthplace: Kramfors, SWE
Position: LW
Handedness: Left


Kempe was selected by the Kings in the first round (29th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft.

Alex Iafallo

#19 | 6′ | 185 lb | Age: 23

Born: December 21, 1993
Birthplace: Eden, NY, USA
Position: C
Handedness: Left


Iafallo was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent on April 18, 2017.

Anze Kopitar

#11 | 6′ 3″ | 224 lb | Age: 29

Born: August 24, 1987
Birthplace: Jesenice, SVN
Position: C
Handedness: Left


As the 11th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Kopitar became the first Slovenian to play in the NHL. Kopitar has spent his entire NHL career with the Kings, and following the 2015–16 season, was named the Kings’ captain. Noted for both his offensive and defensive play, Kopitar was awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL in 2016.

Drew Doughty

#8 | 6′ 1″ | 195 lb | Age: 26

Born: December 8, 1989
Birthplace: London, ON, CAN
Position: D
Handedness: Right


Bio: Doughty is a Canadian defenceman who was selected second overall by the Kings in the 2008 Draft. Doughty made his NHL debut in 2008 as an 18-year-old and was named to the All-Rookie Team. He is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Kings, a two-time Olympic gold medallist with the Canadian national team, and a Norris Trophy finalist.

Jeff Carter

#77 | 6′ 4″ | 215 lb | Age: 31

Born: January 1, 1985
Birthplace: London, ON, CAN
Position: C
Handedness: Right


Carter began his hockey career playing in the Ontario Hockey League in Canada before joining the AHL and playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. He was then traded to the Colombus Blue jackets before joining the LA Kings in 2012, where he has since won two Stanley Cups with the Kings.

Jonathan Quick

#32 | 6′ 1″ | 218 lb | Age: 30

Born: January 21, 1986
Birthplace: Milford, CT, USA
Position: G
Handedness: Left


Bio: Quick is the current goaltender for the LA Kings and was selected by Los Angeles at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Previously, Quick was a silver medalist with USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He’s won two Stanley Cup championships with the Kings, along with being the most recent goaltender to be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.