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.