A year and a half before Mike Richards went Hollywood and joined the Los Angeles Kings, the Kings pursued another star forward playing in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta Thrashers winger Ilya Kovalchuk was on his way out of Georgia, and the Kings were salivating for star power. What could have happened is at the very least intriguing and could have altered the course of hockey history.
When the Thrashers were dangling Kovalchuk at the 2010 trade deadline, they wanted a king’s ransom — and Dean Lombardi surely thought about pulling the trigger. Among other considerations, the Thrashers wanted current team captain Dustin Brown, then 23-year old defenseman Jack Johnson and rising power forward Wayne Simmonds, a move that would have gutted the Kings’ franchise.
Eventually, the Kings pulled out of the “Kovy Sweepstakes” and the New Jersey Devils acquired the superstar winger, but this wasn’t the end of the courtship between the two parties. When Kovalchuk reached free agency a few months later, the Kings hotly pursued him and were willing to pay him upwards of $8 million per year.
Again, the Devils swooped in and re-signed Kovalchuk to a 15-year deal after a previously submitted 17-year deal had been rejected. Little did the Kings know they had dodged not one, but two bullets.
A year after missing out on Kovalchuk, the Kings made the big trade for Richards, and Simmons was the primary player sent to the Flyers in exchange. Eight months after that, the Kings brought in Richards’ former teammate Jeff Carter to aid the team’s scoring, with Jack Johnson being the principal component going to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Carter and Richards provided the Kings all the spark they needed as they won the 2012 Stanley Cup, beating Kovalchuk’s Devils in the Final.
As for Kovalchuk, he was a big part of the upstart Devils making the 2012 Stanley Cup Final and looked to be a big part of the team’s future. However, seemingly out of nowhere, he bolted Jersey and returned to Russia to play in the KHL in July, 2013. The return to Russia really messed things up for the Devils, and the team will be in a bit of a quagmire for the foreseeable future.
Sometimes the best moves you make are the ones you don’t make. Dean Lombardi should take pride in that he didn’t sell the farm for Kovalchuk, nor did he dish out an erroneous contract for him. The Kings have two Stanley Cups in three seasons, while the Devils have a Final appearance and the miserable reality of “what could have been” to show for Kovalchuk.