Sens' Kovalev says it would be nice to retire in Montreal

Barry Riz, Staff

8/27/2009 4:45:57 PM

It was an unusual statement to make, considering the team that Alex Kovalev just came from and the team for whom he will soon suit up.

The former Montreal Canadiens forward - who signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Ottawa Senators as a free agent this summer - told reporters on Thursday that he likes the idea of finishing his career in Montreal.

"I was disappointed, I thought for sure I'd be staying here," said Kovalev at his charity golf tournament in Montreal. "I couldn't really understand what had just happened. In the end, I took it from a business point of view. You had a chance to stay here, and you didn't, so you just go and do the job somewhere else. But maybe somewhere in the future I'll be back again, and get the same support."

"I've been back to Montreal four or five times in the last three weeks," Kovalev continued. "Every time you see a fan on the street, (they say) they're really disappointed. That's why I say, maybe after two years I'll be back again. It definitely would be nice to retire here. But it's not for me to talk about Montreal - I'm part of another organization. I'm going to go there and do the best I can and we'll see what happens."

This past off-season turned out much differently than Kovalev had hoped. He stated that his first choice was to remain in Montreal, but he was unable to come to terms with the Canadiens and the team instead decided to sign free agent forward Brian Gionta with about the same amount of money.

"We hadn't agreed on the amount (with Kovalev), but another player was willing to come and join our team," general manager Bob Gainey told radio station CJAD in early July. "So the dollars that we had allotted there for a particular position were grabbed up by another player."

The Canadiens are coming off their biggest summer makeover in team history, adding Scott Gomez from the New York Rangers along with Gionta and free agents Mike Cammalleri, Jaroslav Spacek, Paul Mara, Travis Moen and Hal Gill.

Despite a rally by about 100 fans outside the Bell Centre on July 5 - and an online petition signed by more than 8,000 fans to make him captain - the 16-year NHL veteran signed with the Senators. Kovalev was added as insurance up front, as Ottawa continues to shop disgruntled forward Dany Heatley.

"When you spend such a long time with one organization - it happened before when I had to leave the Rangers and Pittsburgh - it's not easy," said Kovalev. "But this was a different situation where it was a completely different feeling playing for the city and with the fans reactions, the support and everything, it's not that easy to leave the city after that."

Kovalev, like many of his Canadiens teammates, struggled under the weight of expectations during the Canadiens 100th anniversary campaign this past year. The low point for him came in March following the All-Star break when Gainey told him to take some time away from the team in order to "clear his head".  Many speculated at the time that Kovalev had played his last game for Montreal.  He returned to the team after missing two games and finished the season with 26 goals and 39 assists.

There also appeared to be issues when it came to communications between Kovalev and team management. It was reported by the Canadian Press after the Ottawa signing that Gainey had previously offered Kovalev an identical deal to remain in Montreal.

Gainey said that Kovalev hesitated in getting back to him, so he went ahead with the Gionta deal instead.

"(My agent and I) were just waiting for the best opportunity," explained Kovalev. "It was nobody's fault. From what I understand, Montreal was trying to take a different direction and that's what they decided to do. The last thing we heard from them was when they called us and said 'there's no more room for you,' and that they were going with other players. It was really surprising for us."

In terms of the Heatley saga, Kovalev said that he would be very happy to have the two-time 50-goal scorer remain in Ottawa.

"It would be nice if (Heatley) stays on the team," he said. "It's definitely not going to be easy in the first couple of months, and maybe the fans aren't going to be on his side, but eventually if he plays well and the team plays well - if he stays it would be great. I'm sure the players will back him up a little bit because he's always been important to the club."