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Kings have no regrets over losing Kovy courtship

by Dave Lozo /
LOS ANGELES -- Kings coach Terry Murray wasn't going to lie Saturday morning. He'd love to have Ilya Kovalchuk on his roster. But he has just one regret about the courtship of Kovalchuk this summer that saw the free agent choose the New Jersey Devils.

"I had a coffee with him. I had to buy it," Murray said. "I'd like to get my 5 bucks back. He had a latte."

It's easier to joke about losing out on an elite player with the Kings off to a 7-3-0 start and sitting atop the Western Conference.

Kovalchuk and the Devils, meanwhile, are 3-7-1 and searching for the chemistry and cohesion that has been a big part of the Kings' success this season. The two teams meet Saturday night at the Staples Center.

Still, Murray wasn't about to dismiss what it would mean to have a superstar at his disposal in Los Angeles.

"I've had those guys," Murray said. "I had Pavel Bure put up (59) goals for me in Florida. I had (Eric) Lindros in Philly who was an MVP in the League. I've had these players that are impact players and they're nice to have. If they're all on page and playing the right way and playing the team game, then it's outstanding to have those guys because they do determine your season and your playoffs. They make a difference all the way through.

"I'd love to have Kovalchuk. I'm not going to kid anybody. He's a great player. It just didn't work out that way."

But, the Kings are doing just fine without Kovalchuk.

Right wing Justin Williams, who seems to be constantly battling some sort of injury, is healthy now and tied for the team lead in points with 9, three more than Kovalchuk has this season.

Norris Trophy candidate Drew Doughty has missed five games due to a concussion, but the Kings found a way to go 3-2-0 on the road without arguably their most talented player. Defenseman Jack Johnson has stepped up in Doughty's place with 6 assists in his last four games and will have to do so once again, as Doughty will sit out Saturday's game against the Devils.

The Kings are the consummate team right now. But would they have been better off with Kovalchuk on the roster? No one can say for sure, but it's hard to argue with the results in Los Angeles so far.

"I think we would've found a way to figure it out either way," said Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi. "He made his decision; he was a free agent, that was his choice.

He's a rare talent and we possibly could've been a better team with him; but without him, I think we're just as good."

Scuderi has been on his share of successful teams in recent years. He won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-09 before signing with the Kings two summers ago. Last season, the Kings finished with 101 points and earned the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

The 31-year-old has seen both sides of the argument.

With the Penguins, everything revolved around a superstar with Sidney Crosby. With the Kings, it's more about balance and a team effort where one person isn't counted on more than the rest.

What does Scuderi prefer?

"I think it all depends on that individual," Scuderi said. "Sidney Crosby, in my opinion, is probably the best player in the world right now. But at the same time, he's a good teammate. He makes you feel like he's just one of the guys even though on the ice he's an exceptional talent."

There's no way to know for sure if Kovalchuk would've disrupted the chemistry that has been building for so long with these Kings. Players like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown are part of a young core that slowly transformed itself into a playoff contender after years of struggles. It's resulted in a close locker room where no one garners more attention than anyone else.

"Everybody's been here for a while. We've got a young team," said Kings defenseman Matt Greene. "It's a fun team to be around. It's a fun locker room. The guys care about each other. Tons of guys hang out. No one really seems to get sick of each other. It's close-knit. There's nothing more you can say. It's not like we hug it out all the time."

Does Greene think Kovalchuk would have fit in with a group of guys who are obviously prone to referencing "Entourage" in interviews?

"Who knows? You never know how a guy is going to be until he gets on your team," Greene said. "Who knows if we miss him or not. He definitely would've brought a different dynamic to this team. You can never tell until he actually laces them up."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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