Friday, 15 June 2012

Anyone Need A 40-Something Player?

It appears that another forgotten soul is looking to make a comeback in an NHL rink this season. With Jaromir Jagr and the Philadelphia Flyers still in negotiations over a new contract for him, another forty-something former star is looking to find his name on a roster. Alexei Kovalev feels that he can still help an NHL squad at age 39, telling the Montreal Gazette that he'd love to return to the Montreal Canadiens for the 2012-13 season. Of course, this would be news to the Canadiens, but it appears Alex Kovalev is looking to revive a stalled career once more.

"Hopefully, I'll find an NHL team," Kovalev told Dave Stubbs. "The preference is always going to be a team I've played on because you know the environment.

"And I'd definitely like to come back to Montreal. They're all about the young guys, but I can help in all different ways. And I can still play. I have a lot of energy."

While he may feel that the energy level is high, I'm not sure I'm sold on Kovalev returning to any team in the NHL this season unless he's willing to be a third-line player at best. He had knee surgery while playing in the KHL, and he hasn't skated for an NHL team since late-2011 when the Penguins were eliminated in the playoffs. Needless to say, he might be a step behind some of the younger players that he wants to mentor.

Of course, Jagr came back and worked with some of Philly's players this season, and they got some pretty impressive totals out of Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. Jagr had a good influence on the younger Flyers, so there's some evidence that an aging superstar can actually be a good teacher for the rising stars of the NHL. But Montreal isn't really the place where a rising star can be found.

Sure, Max Pacioretty is a good candidate as an up-and-coming scoring threat, and his season this past year was quite impressive. But what can Kovalev bring to the table in terms of making Pacioretty better? It's not Kovalev is known for his strong work ethic like a Gary Roberts. It's not like he was willing to change the way he played the game like a Steve Yzerman. And he certainly wasn't known for his physical presence like a Scott Stevens. So what exactly would Kovalev teach Pacioretty?

The ability to dangle and not use his teammates in the offensive zone is not one that Pacioretty needs. The knack for floating in the neutral zone while your teammates play in the defensive zone is not an endearing quality for any player. The idea of not skating back to your own zone twice as hard as you skate up the ice is one for which most coaches will pin a player to the bench. In other words, for all of Kovalev's all-world talent, his bad habits and poor work ethic has always dogged him where ever he played.

I'm not one to write Alexei Kovalev off just yet, though. He could be a good addition to a team needing a veteran presence in a talented lineup of younger players. A team such as the Nashville Predators might be a good fit for Kovalev's mentoring ability, but I'm not sure his work ethic would fit into Barry Trotz's idea of what a Predator should be. That dark cloud will continue to follow him to every city because a leopard doesn't change its spots.

Kovalev is a great player and certainly was a bonafide star in his prime. But like the return of Alexei Yashin a few years ago, this comeback trail should end with the linked newspaper article above. Yashin was a lazy player who got by with exceptional talent when he still had the legs to turn it on, and Alexei Kovalev also falls into that category. Neither of them like the defensive side of the game, and I doubt either of them would be willing to fall into a defensive role like Steve Yzerman or Mike Modano did with the Red Wings.

For all of Kovalev's talents, he simply is a 39 year-old player who should probably look at retiring rather than resuming a career. He was a fabulously talented player who won a Stanley Cup, and he filled highlight reels around the world. He truly was an exceptional talent, and there's no denying that.

But like his hockey career, we should continue to talk about him in the past tense. Alexei Kovalev making a comeback should never happen, and I can't imagine any team tying up significant money in a player who will be a third-line winger.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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