Ilya Kovalchuk agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way contract with the Montreal Canadiens on Friday.
The contract is worth $700,000 at the NHL level and $70,000 at the American Hockey League level.
The 36-year-old forward had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 17 games with the Los Angeles Kings this season and was a healthy scratch in his final 18 games before he was placed on unconditional waivers Dec. 18 and had his contract terminated.
“He knows it’s his last chance,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said. “We have nothing to lose. We’ll see where he’s at, where his game is at and we’ll decide. It’s going to be up to him.
“He’s a motivated player. Listen, you have different degrees of risk, you have high risk, medium risk to no risk. Bringing [Kovalchuk] here to Montreal, there’s no risk. He’s motivated, he had a training camp, I think at the start of the season, his first six, seven games he was one of the Kings’ leading scorers.
“Long term, short term, it’s not going to hurt anybody. It might work, it might not work, but it’s going to be up to Kovi.”
Bergevin would not commit to whether Kovalchuk would debut for the Canadiens (18-17-6) when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, TVAS, CITY, SNE, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).
“Probably not, but don’t shoot me if he does,” Bergevin said.
Kovalchuk signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Kings on July 1, 2018, after five seasons with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League. He has 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 81 games since returning to the NHL.
“He’s a hard worker, he’s a good person,” Bergevin said. “Guys that want to perform, I get that, and In L.A. it didn’t work out, but I talked to [Kings general manager Rob] Blake, he never caused a problem, he’s a good person, and I did check that out.”
The No. 1 pick by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 NHL Draft, Kovalchuk has 859 points (436 goals, 423 assists) in 897 NHL games with the Thrashers, New Jersey Devils and Kings, and 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 32 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He scored 52 goals in 2005-06 and 2007-08 and has six seasons of at least 40 goals. He had 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) to help the Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, when they lost to the Kings in six games.
Montreal is without several key forwards, including Jonathan Drouin (upper-body injury) and Paul Byron (lower body), who have each missed 22 games; Joel Armia (upper body), who has missed four games and Brendan Gallagher (upper body), who has missed one. Each is on injured reserve.
“I believe if guys were healthy, we’d be probably in the playoffs or closer,” Bergevin said. “We’re trying to help them in the short term to stay in the playoff race until our injured players return, and they probably won’t be ready to play before the [all-star] break, which means another nine games or so before we see those players again. So that explains the principal reason for our signing this morning.”
Bergevin said any moves the Canadiens make will be with their long-term fortunes in mind.
“We’d like to make the playoffs, but I will not sacrifice our kids for a short-term fix, I will not do that,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”
LNH.com senior writer Robert LaFlamme and NHL.com correspondent Sean Farrell contributed to this report