- Scott Burnside, NHL
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Poor, misunderstood Alexei Kovalev.
All these years we thought the enigmatic winger was just a charlatan living off the rumor of vast skills, when it turns out he was just the victim of poor reporting.
We should have known. Darn those mean-spirited reporters and their negative thoughts.
Kovalev shared some insights about his final days in the NHL after signing a two-year deal last week with Atlant Mytischi of the Kontinental Hockey League.
We understand comments are sometimes lost in translation when players return home or talk to reporters in their native language. But from what we can gather from Kovalev's recent interview with Russian newspaper Sovetsky Sport (thanks to a transcription from Yahoo! Sports blogger Dmitry Chesnokov), he doesn't think much of the Ottawa writing corps or his former head coach Cory Clouston.
According to the translated version of the Kovalev interview, he said the local reporters in Ottawa "don't watch hockey at all. When they fly with the team and go through the [metal detector] at an airport, their bags are filled with beer."
Kovalev also told his Russian audience he had no idea what kind of system Clouston was trying to impose on his players during the parts of two seasons he played in Ottawa. We can only assume Clouston was looking for a system that might have gotten at least a modicum of production from the petulant Kovalev, who signed a bloated two-year, $10 million deal with the Senators in the summer of 2009, a contract that ought to have seen Kovalev listed with Interpol given the larceny his level of play represented.
Yes, Clouston had his faults and he paid for them with his job at the end of last season. Kovalev, however, not only got to keep his $10 million, but he even got a shot at the playoffs this past spring after he was dealt to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.
Returning to his old NHL home, Kovalev managed just two goals in 20 games during the regular season. Kovalev, who once upon a time was a valuable contributor to a Stanley Cup-winning team with the New York Rangers in 1994, followed that sterling effort with a one-goal effort in seven playoff games for the Penguins.
According to the transcribed interview, Kovalev explained his "style" didn't mesh with Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. That would be the same Dan Bylsma who was honored with the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in June. Having watched Bylsma's teams since he arrived during the 2008-09 season, we know his system does demand accountability from all his players, from Sidney Crosby on down through the lineup. That must have been the part that didn't mesh when it came to Kovalev.
Kovalev turned down a couple of one-year deals from NHL clubs to take the security of a two-year deal in the KHL, where he will be close to home. No harm in that. And let's be fair, there were times when Kovalev would bring you out of your seat, when his control of the puck and vision for the offensive side of the game was a thing of beauty.
Those times became fewer and fewer in recent years, despite some teams' insistence on lavishing him with monster contracts. It's a function of time.
But it is off-putting to see Kovalev scurry home and then blast his former coach and the reporters covering his team instead of acknowledging that perhaps he is indeed mortal. It reminds us of the old story of the man who shined only the fronts of his shoes because he didn't care what people thought about him as he was leaving the room.
This was not a graceful exit for Kovalev, but a telling one nonetheless.
1530dScott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun
1527dScott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun