Former Ranger Alexei Kovalev spent the last season in the KHL, but told AllHockey.ru that he could make a return to North America. From the article (roughly translated by Google):
“In the near future I am going to North America. I have offers from several teams, they are just beginning to practice at the end of August.”
What is not clear, however, is whether Kovalev has been offered an actual contract or if he has merely received non-roster training camp invites. And yes, you know where this is headed. Of course, this could merely be Kovalev using the media for bargaining leverage in negotiations with teams in Russia. But let’s explore this anyway. Are the Rangers a team that has been in contact with Kovalev? Should they be? Keep reading for my opinion of the situation and whether the Rangers should pursue bringing him back to Broadway.
Kovalev had two stints with the Rangers and was a key member of the 1994 Stanley Cup winning team, so there’s a clear link between Kovy and the Rangers before even getting into negotations. In his prime he was arguably the most talented player in the NHL, even though he was not always the most productive. Here’s a short video showing his ridiculous skill.
Of course, that was then and this is now. As skilled as he was, Kovy was very inconsistent his whole career and was a headache for coaches to deal with, perhaps most famously with Mike Keenan. And this was in his prime. His production dropped off tremendously in his last couple of seasons in the NHL, failing to reach the 20 goal plateau both times. His last season in Russia was no better, where he fought injuries for much of the season and finished the 2011-2012 campaign with 1 goal and 5 assists in 22 games. Still, he did show some moments of brilliants and signs that he still is physically capable of some special offensive moments.
And then there’s John Tortorella. Torts is very similar to Keenan in terms of punishing players who aren’t putting together quality shifts. And so you have to wonder how long it would take Tortorella to get fed up with Kovalev, who never was relevant physically or defensively and certainly won’t start now. That could also work for Kovalev, however, as he knows this season could be his final shot of staying relevant. And Tortorella is about as good as any coach in terms of getting players in the right mindsets.
Ideally, Shane Doan decides to come to New York and this whole discussion is irrelevant. But things don’t always work out ideally. And while I’m okay with what the Rangers have right now, it’s hard to argue that they wouldn’t benefit from adding winger capable of chipping in 20-25 goals. And if Kovalev is right both physically and mentally then he would be a bargain pickup. I am definitely not comfortable giving him a contract after what he has shown (or not shown) recently in the NHL. But as for a tryout offer; why not? I see no harm in bringing him in for a look. At worst, he shows nothing in a few pre-season games and the Rangers send him on his way. Considering plugs like Garnet Exelby and undrafted CHL players get training camp invites every year, I fail to see why giving Kovalev a look would be less justifiable.
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