February 25, 2011; Raleigh, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Alex Kovalev (72) before the start of the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center. The Hurricanes defeated the Penguins 4-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE

Alexei Kovalev: Back In Blue?

One of the enduring memories from the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup Championship is that of a then-21-year-old Alexei Kovalev pouring champagne on his lucky troll doll in the Rangers’ locker room, beaming and shouting, “no more 1940!” Kovalev was an instrumental part of that playoff run, totaling 21 points in 23 playoff games on the way to the Cup. In just over 8 full seasons on Broadway, he appeared in 492 regular season games, netting 142 goals and 188 assists for a total of 330 points as a Ranger.

Feb 23, 2011; Ottawa, ON, Canada; Ottawa Senators right wing Alex Kovalev (27) during the second period against the Florida Panthers at ScotiaBank Place. The Senators won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-US PRESSWIRE

Beloved by some fans, a source of endless frustration for others, Kovalev often seemed almost the stereotypical “enigmatic Russian”: a player of immense talent and finesse (to say nothing of charisma and personality, both of which he had in spades), yet whose tendency to play a style-first type of game – and to bury 20 goals instead of the 30-40 he was clearly capable of – often landed him in the doghouse. However, as of 2011, Kovalev’s career stats were perfectly legit: 18 NHL seasons, 1302 games, 428 goals, 596  assists, 1024 points. His last NHL season was 2010-2011; split between Ottawa and Pittsburgh, it saw him total a disappointing 34 points in 74 games, and at the end of the season it seemed the NHL was done with #27, as he signed a 2-year contract with Atlant Moscow Oblast of the KHL. However,  Oblast released him from his contract after one disappointing season that included surgery on his then-38-year-old knee.

Last month, Kovalev announced a desire to return to the NHL, stating that his knee was fully healed, that he was working out daily and in peak condition, and that he had received training camp invitations from (unspecified) NHL teams. There have been rumors (although this writer has been unable to confirm their veracity) that the Rangers are one of those teams.  Is there logic in giving Kovalev – now 39 – a third shot on Broadway? On one hand, signing him to a 1 year deal – based on his performance at training camp, of course – could end up being a wise move for the Rangers, as his asking price at his age would not be high and the Blueshirts could still benefit from secondary scoring during Marian Gaborik‘s recovery from shoulder surgery. Conversely, bringing Kovalev back could also be seen as a nostalgia move, and not necessarily the most logical considering the depth of the youth in Hartford and the number of young players, such as Christian Thomas and Marek Hrivik, who might otherwise get a shot at making the big club.

However, ultimately, the decision to sign or not to sign the veteran would need to be based on his performance during his training camp tryout, as well as those of the AHL youth who would be his main competition for a roster spot. If nothing else, is there really anything to be lost by merely extending Kovalev an invitation and seeing if he still has the old Kovy magic?

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