After wooing Ilya Kovalchuk for weeks only to be jilted, the Kings broke out of their holding pattern Tuesday to sign free-agent left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky for one year at $3 million plus a $200,000 signing bonus.
They nearly acquired him at the trading deadline but Toronto instead traded him to Pittsburgh. He had 21 goals in 77 games, his fourth 20-goal performance in five seasons. He replaces left wing Alexander Frolov, who rejected the Kings' late overtures for a one-year, $3-million deal with the New York Rangers.
General Manager Dean Lombardi said chasing Kovalchuk left the team "exposed" and with few options as top free-agent defensemen and wingers were snapped up.
"Because it dragged on for so long and arguably has continued to drag on, we weren't addressing other needs," he said. "I think we got the piece that concerned me the most. I think the deal works. It's a one-year deal. If he performs we can extend him. And he should be motivated."
Kovalchuk's contract with the New Jersey Devils was rejected by the NHL and is headed to arbitration, which could result in restoring his free-agent status. The Kings, who indicated interest in pursuing him again, might be asked to testify at the still-unscheduled hearing. An arbitrator has not been chosen yet by the NHL and the players' union.
Ponikarovsky, 30, has family in Los Angeles and is looking forward to joining the Kings.
"I like to use my size and creativity and basically score goals," he said. "I can do penalty killing and I'm pretty useful on the power play. I know I'm a two-way player and pretty responsible defensively."
Lombardi said he is "looking at one other thing I'd like to try and do," but has a fallback because of the club's plentiful defense prospects. "If we don't find what I'm looking for I feel a lot better that we got at least the forward because I don't see an option on the forward," he said.