Bob Gainey is a champion at heart, and late Tuesday evening, he decided to make a move in order to increase his team’s chances at doing just that, becoming champions. In exchange for the promising young Josef Balej and a 2004 second round draft choice, Gainey went shopping and came up with the uber-talented Alex Kovalev.
Kovalev, who had not enjoyed success with the Rangers since being dealt by the Penguins last season, is one of the game’s premier talents and immediately gives the Habs a deadly threat on the top line. Along with Saku Koivu and Richard Zednik, who could be tossed around as possible linemates for the 6’1, 220 pound native of Togliatti, in the former USSR, Kovalev joins not only Koivu and Zednik, but Mike Ribeiro and Micheal Ryder, too as legitimate scoring threats that can make the opposition cringe.
While his numbers so far this season, 13 goals and 28 assists, aren’t mind-blowing, his skills are among the best in the league. From stickhandling, to shooting, to skating, this man is a pleasure to watch play hockey. He can sell tickets, he can bring people onto their feet, and, most importantly, he can single handedly decide a game.
In Balej, we are losing an exceptionally talented youngster; but one who’s future was clouded. With Andrei Kastitstyn and Alex Perezhogin being more talented players with higher ceilings of upside, Balej, the Bulldogs leading scorer, was perhaps considered expendable. Kovalev, who’s 6.6 million dollar salary (a bargain, by all means) has already been, for the most part, taken care of (with the season winding down), is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
What is all boils down to, though, is that the Habs have finally acquired an upper-echelon talent to place alongside the Koivu’s and the Ribeiro’s of the team. All it takes is one flick of the wrists, or one tricky pass, for Alex Kovalev to win you a hockey game. The addition of the 32-year-old sniper also gives the Habs the oppurtunity to shift a player from their first powerplay unit, to their woefully weak second unit.
All in all, he will be a welcomed addition in Montreal, no matter how long the stay lasts. And, to add to the list of positives, the Habs have acquired another Russian born player; something Andrei Markov has missed ever since Oleg Petrov was dealt. On the topic of Petrov, if Kovalev even works half as hard as good ol’ Oleg, we’re in for quite the treat as fans.