Alex Kovalev Returns to Pittsburgh

For the second time in less than a week, Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero has pulled the trigger on a significant trade to bolster his injury-riddled lineup. And this time, rather than dealing for a young, fresh face such as James Neal or Matt Niskanen, it's for an ex-fan favourite who's greatest individual success arguably came while playing in the Steel City.

Alex Kovalev, the enigmatic Russian sniper whose previous tour of duty with the black and gold spanned five seasons and six calendar years, was acquired from the rebuilding Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 7th round draft pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. If the Penguins advance past the first round of the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Kovalev suits up in at least half of the team's games, then the draft choice will be upgraded to a 6th round selection.

While many onlookers will criticize the move, citing Kovalev's age (38), infamous reputation of having a poor work ethic, and dwindling point production (just 14 goals and 27 points in 54 games this season), the Togliatti, Russia native has been on a noticeable scoring tear as of late, tallying 6 goals and 9 points over his last 10 games with the Sens. In order to facilitate the deal, Kovalev agreed to waive his no-trade clause to leave Canada's capital and return to the franchise he has played the second-most games with (next to the New York Rangers, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in his rookie year of 1993-94) of any team over the course of his National Hockey League career.

In 345 total games with the Pens from 1998 to 2003, Kovalev recorded 149 goals, 198 assists and 347 points, averaging over a point per game during his tenure. During the 2000-01 NHL campaign, Kovalev undoubtedly had his greatest season in the NHL, setting career highs in goals (44), assists (51), and points (95) in 79 games, helping lead the Penguins all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were ultimately defeated by the New Jersey Devils, who went on to lose the Stanley Cup Finals in seven games to Ray Bourque and the Colorado Avalanche.

Kovalev's scoring prowess, veteran leadership, and familiarity with the pressure of playing on a Stanley Cup contender will be a welcome addition to Pittsburgh's lineup, a squad decimated by injury, yet still finding ways to record points, as they did last night with a hard-fought overtime loss against the red-hot San Jose Sharks. He is expected to play tomorrow night when the Penguins begin their 5-game road trip at the RBC Center against the Carolina Hurricanes.


George Prax's picture

From experience, Kovalev can be lights out or he can be incredibly frustrating. But when you stroke his ego just enough he's more likely to be lights out. He's going to be great next to a guy like Crosby if that's who he ends up playing with. Shame he won't get to play with Malkin but the Pens lose nearly nothing and if he doesn't work out, it's not a big deal. In Montreal he was a centerpiece and part of this team's core, and that's why it didn't work out. In Pittsburgh he'll play second fiddle to Crosby but that will be fine for him. Good trade.

Ranger4ever's picture

And they say "you can never go home again"!!! Kovalev was an absolute smash on Broadway--we loved his instant impact on the '94 Cup winner and the many wonderful tales of his five-minute shifts under Mike Keenan. But I agree with the sentiments expressed in your article, Quinn, he was never truly better than during his time in Steeltown! George's point is well-taken too--how can you possibly secure a potential missing piece for a Cup drive (point a game last month!!) for a sixth or seventh round pick?. I am looking forward to seeing him dangle the opposition for the Pens' with his improbably short Warrior stick and predict that he will be an instant success on his return engagement. Imagine how much he will admire the building upgrade!!

Quinn Mell-Cobb's picture

As Ranger noted, at the price of a late, late, late (emphasis on LATE) draft pick, can the Penguins really go wrong here? Count me as a fan of the move.

George Prax's picture

The only thing that kind of sucks that I mentioned is that ideally, Kovalev would play with Malkin. How epic would that be for the Pens?

Quinn Mell-Cobb's picture

In my opinion it's not out of the question that if Kovalev enjoys his time here for the rest of the season, he can be re-signed during the summer for fairly cheap. I imagine at this stage of his career he's looking at playing for a winner rather than playing for more cash, but who knows.