Alexei Kovalev returns to the NHL, maybe

Jonathan Willis
January 08 2013 10:21AM

Photo: Michael Miller/Wikimedia

On Tuesday morning, the Miami Herald’s George Richards reported that Alexei Kovalev, the veteran of more than 1,300 NHL games and a guy with more than 1,000 points, will be in training camp with the Florida Panthers.

What should be expected of him?

In two words: not much.

The good news is that if there is a team where Kovalev can make an impact, it’s Florida. With a division- and conference-heavy compressed schedule coming, the advantage of playing in the league’s weakest division is obvious, both for teams and players. For any team in the southeast division, that means a heavy minority of games against a relatively weak assortment of clubs, and a majority of games against the NHL’s second-best conference. For a player like Kovalev, it’s an opportunity to score against slightly inferior lines to what he would normally face over an NHL season.

The other good news: apparently he’s in great shape.

The bad news is that Kovalev is coming off the worst season of his lengthy career. I’m not talking about a 2010-11 campaign split between Ottawa and Pittsburgh, a season that saw him fall to a career-low 0.46 points/game (his previous-worst was almost 20% better). I’m talking about Kovalev’s painful return to hockey in Russia, playing for Atlant Mytishchi of the KHL in 2011-12.

Last season, Kovalev skated in 22 games for Atlant, scoring a single goal and recording six points in total. For the sake of comparison, the last time his offensive totals were so low was when – as a 17-year old – he skated for Dynamo Moscow before the fall of the Soviet Union.

Kovalev turns 40 towards the end of February. He’s coming off not one, but two, lousy seasons. If he can come back from those and be an effective NHL player for the Florida Panthers, it will be a remarkable turn of events, the kind of comeback that should earn Kovalev a real shot at the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. But it would be an amazing comeback precisely because it’s so unlikely: based on the last two years, there’s no reason to expect Kovalev to be an effective NHL player.

Given that he’s almost certainly going to be in training camp on a professional tryout basis, it might be a tall order for Kovalev simply to make the team.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 Ben Wendorf
January 08 2013, 10:48AM
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I'm guessing Kovalev looks in great shape because of his stickhandling, which always makes him look good.

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#2 Stephan Cooper
January 08 2013, 10:08PM
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Kovalev has always had a big work ethic for off-ice training. He was built like a tank in Montreal.

Unfortunately his skating has deserted him, making him pretty useless.

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