$100 MILLION BENCHWARMER
A version of this article first appeared in Russian on Спорт-Экспресс under the title, “‘Как "Кингз" добиться большего от Ковальчука?’ Что говорят в США о проблемах российской звезды.”
When Ilya Kovalchuk uploaded a photo of himself eating ice cream in downtown LA while the rest of his teammates prepared for battle in Western Canada, Kings fans knew something was wrong.
In the latest drama to unfold between Ilya Kovalchuk and the Los Angeles Kings, the Russian superstar did not join the team—sitting in last place of the Pacific Division—on their most recent road trip to Western Canada. Lisa Dillman is a Kings insider for The Athletic, and shared her quick take on the latest developments in LA.
The Caviar Diplomat (TCD): The decision to leave Kovalchuk behind was mutual - or so [General Manager] Blake says. Did you have any sense in speaking with Ilya that he would actively bench himself? ‘Working on skills’ for a player of his calibre seems like an insult.
Lisa Dillman (LD): It sounded like, from Blake, that the idea was initiated by Ilya. The team will be having a mandated CBA day off on Wednesday, so there was almost no time for him to practice and get any meaningful ice time on this trip. I suspect he thought it was better to get in decent sessions on the ice at home in LA for three days.
TCD: Kovalchuk is still the fourth leading scorer for the Kings. Can we pinpoint exactly what caused Desjardins to turn on him so early?
LD: I cannot pinpoint what went wrong because it happened almost immediately. Also, Ilya and his advisors are just as mystified as everyone else.
TCD: Desjardins says that playing 7 Defensemen has been a successful strategy this season, but they're sitting in last place. Do you agree with his assessment?
LD: No I don't agree with the 7D alignment. I was not in Edmonton for tonight's game but they went back to the 6D tonight. What I can't understand and will ask Desjardins the next time I see him, why others are have not been benched despite far longer slumps.
TCD: Creative players often` struggle in lineups - Alexei Kovalev has expressed frustrations to me, for example, about how coaches 'misused' him in the past. To what extent does a player like Ilya need to take responsibility for the way he functions in a lineup, and to what extent should Desjardins own the issue?
LD: Desjardins made plenty of mistakes with highly talented personnel in Vancouver too. He doesn't seem to have learned or adapted from past errors. Re Ilya, I think Kovalchuk has owned it when he hasn't played well this season.
TCD: What role do you expect Kovalchuk to play in next year's squad, inevitably under new leadership?
LD: A new coach will clean the slate for everybody, which is the same in every sport. It is essential, I think (and have written) that one of the first questions the Kings should ask their prospective coaching candidates: How can you get the most out of Ilya Kovalchuk and how do you intend to do it?