On the Penguins: Bring back Kovalev?


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Ten days ago, all indications were that general manager Ray Shero would be facing a difficult decision as the NHL trade deadline, set for 3 p.m. Feb. 28, began to close in:

Should he go out for a long lunch, or just take a nap?

The Penguins, you see, barely had enough salary-cap space to add a guy capable of dressing himself, let alone someone who could fill a meaningful role during the stretch drive and playoffs.

It's not that the Penguins didn't have any significant needs -- they've had an opening for a goal-scoring winger or two for years -- but that didn't matter when there was no cap space to accommodate the kind of contract such a player was sure to have.

However, everything changed early in the second period of the Penguins' 3-2 victory against Buffalo on Feb. 4, when Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers fell on Evgeni Malkin's right leg, tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.

That ended Malkin's season and opened millions of dollars' worth of cap space for Shero, who now figures to be one of the most aggressive GMs as the deadline gets closer.

Shero is a patient sort who generally waits until at least a few days -- and more often, a few minutes -- before the deadline to finalize moves. There's no evidence he will deviate from that approach this time.

The risk in that strategy is that a player he might want will be gone before he makes a serious move for him; the upside is that the pool of potential acquisitions will grow as the deadline nears and more GMs accept that they should be sellers, not buyers.

There is one guy, though, that Shero probably could add in the next five minutes, if he were so inclined.

That's right winger Alex Kovalev, with whom Ottawa seems eager to part and who is not likely to draw serious interest from anywhere in the league.

Penguins officials are noncommittal about whether they have any meaningful interest in Kovalev, and it certainly is understandable if they have mixed feelings.

It's easy to make a case for bringing him back, and just as easy as it is to show why they shouldn't even think about it. Here are both sides:

Why the Penguins should trade for him

• He is one of the great pure talents to play in the NHL in recent decades, and he did his best, most consistent work as a member of the Penguins.

• Acquiring him should cost no more than a mid- to late-round draft choice, since there seems to be little league-wide interest in him. Certainly, there wouldn't be a bidding war.

• His contract is about to expire, so any commitment to him would be short-term.

• When motivated and focused -- which he conceivably could be by joining a team that expects to compete for a Stanley Cup -- Kovalev has a history of elevating his game for extended stretches.

Why they shouldn't even think about it

• Kovalev is 37 and is having a mostly miserable season with the Senators, putting up just 11 goals and 12 assists in his first 49 games. He actually has been a healthy scratch several times.

• His full-season salary cap hit is $5 million, which would consume most of the Penguins' available cap space (it figures to be in the $8 million range, although it changes every time the Penguins make a personnel move) and seriously limit Shero's options for bringing in other people before the deadline.

• Kovalev was an outstanding performer during his stint with the Penguins, but Martin Straka and Darius Kasparaitis were playing some pretty good hockey for them in those days, too. That doesn't mean it would be wise to put them back on the depth chart now.

Kovalev, in his prime, was a breathtaking, often-dominant talent, and flashes of that brilliance still show up in his game occasionally.

Not often enough, though, for the Penguins to rely on him to be a major factor for them between now and summer, which he would have to be to justify any move to bring him here.

The Week Ahead

Today: at New York Rangers ... The road team is now 4-0 in this season series. Much as the Penguins could use these points, New York needs them even more.

Wednesday: at Colorado ... Peter Forsberg, pictured at right and fresh off years of chronic foot problems, likely will be in the Avalanche lineup. Imagine: A team hoping that a 37-year-old who used to be a world-class talent can be a difference-maker for its offense.


Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com . First Published February 13, 2011 5:00 AM


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