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Numbers Game: Kovalev Lands In Ottawa

Scott Cullen
7/6/2009 11:40:58 PM
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While they were virtually left on the sidelines as free agency opened, the Ottawa Senators landed a high-end scoring winger.

Numbers Game examines the Senators' addition of Alex Kovalev.

The Senators Get: RW Alex Kovalev.

Kovalev, 36, is one of the most maddening players in the game, combining unbelievable skills with a lack of consistency that can drive fans, coaches and general managers to distraction.

After one of the best seasons of his career in 2007-2008, when he scored 84 points and was plus-18 for the Canadiens, Kovalev's production dipped to 65 points and a minus-5 rating last season; still good enough to be Montreal's leading scorer, but there were too many nights that he wasn't an impact player.

At this stage of his career, Kovalev is an interesting mix of rare puckhandling and shooting ability (watch for his wicked wrist shot to the short side, glove side, top shelf on the power play), terrific strength on the puck and even a bit of a mean streak when he's so moved, yet he's also lost a step so sometimes his puck wizardry appears to be happening in slow motion.

Make no mistake, though, for all his shortcomings, Kovalev is an elite talent who gives the Senators some offensive insurance in the event that Dany Heatley finally moves elsewhere. 

While it might be a lot to ask for another point-per-game season from Kovalev at this stage of his career, it wouldn't be out of the question if he found some chemistry with a playmaker like Jason Spezza.

Over the last two seasons in Montreal, Kovalev has put up 28 power play goals (tied for fifth in the league over that span) and 79 power play points (good for third behind Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin), so he's more than capable of helping the Senators with the man advantage.

Signed for two years and $10-million, Kovalev didn't come cheaply for the Senators so they'll need him to play like a first-line talent and, since he's over 35, the Sens are on the hook for both years no matter what, but it seems unlikely that Kovalev would fade away before finishing two productive seasons with the Senators.

That's what makes the Kovalev decision dangerous from both sides of this transaction.  The Canadiens may feel like they spent their money on a more consistent player like Brian Gionta, who is younger and whose salary cap hit will match Kovalev's, but Gionta isn't at Kovalev's level in terms of pure offensive skill and the ability to change a game with his individual ability, which means the Senators gain greater upside with a shorter term financial commitment.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca

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