Penguins trade to bring back Kovalev


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In the 15 games since Penguins centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have logged a complete game, the club has averaged a little more than two goals an outing and has been shut out three times.

Other forwards also are out, and, with such an injury-depleted offense, general manager Ray Shero went looking for a solution before the Monday NHL trade deadline.

He found one Thursday in a deal with Ottawa for right winger Alexei Kovalev, but the move also raises questions.

Such as, can the skilled Kovalev, who turned 38 Thursday, recapture some of the dazzle he had in an earlier run with the Penguins, including 44 goals in 2000-01?

Can he overcome some of the inconsistency that has dogged him, even though it was perhaps rooted in a clash with Ottawa coach Cory Clouston?

"We've done a lot of due diligence on Alexei Kovalev," Shero said. "For the cost in terms of assets, we thought it was worth the risks, and we're hoping he'll get back to playing better hockey.


Today

Game: Penguins at Carolina Hurricanes, 7:08 p.m. today, RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.

TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), penguins.nhl.com.

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Cam Ward for Hurricanes.

Penguins: Can sweep four-game season series with win. ... Have lost 3 games in row, each by 1 goal. ... Are 8-3-1 on first night of back-to-back games.

Hurricanes: Are 6-7-4 vs. Atlantic Division. ... Ward has made 20 starts in row, eight shy of his personal record. ... Are 19-0 when leading after two periods, one of just two teams perfect in that situation. The New York Rangers also are unbeaten taking a lead into the third.

Of note: Carolina is 14-3-1 when Brandon Sutter has a point.


"We're hoping that, in the short term here, he'll be energized to play here."

The Penguins gave up one of their two seventh-round picks in the 2011 draft, although that will switch to a sixth-rounder if the Penguins win a first-round playoff series and Kovalev plays in at least half the games of that series.

Kovalev is expected to be in the lineup tonight when the Penguins play at Carolina. Although he is Russian-born, he is a United States citizen and won't have immigration holdups in moving from a Canadian employer to an American one.

In 1,282 NHL games with the New York Rangers, Penguins, Montreal and Ottawa, Kovalev has 426 goals, 1,017 points. He has been largely disappointing the past two seasons with the Senators, with 14 goals, 27 points in 54 games this season -- although he has six goals, nine points in his past 10 games. He also had knee ligament surgery last year.

"It's too bad I couldn't prove myself as a good player in Ottawa, but I still had a great time [there]," Kovalev said in a podcast provided by the Penguins.

"I'm excited to go to Pittsburgh and play in the playoffs again."

Speaking in somewhat general terms because the deal had not yet been formally announced, coach Dan Bylsma said the Penguins routinely take into account a prospective player's disposition.

"That is a big part of the discussion we have about players at all times," Bylsma said between practice at Consol Energy Center and the team's flight to Raleigh, N.C.

"We have a definition and clear understanding with certain criteria about a player, and it includes their character, where they fit in, their work ethic, in addition to skill sets that we are interested in adding to our group. It's always talked about with every player, every situation, every possibility that's out there."

This was Shero's second trade in the past four days. Monday, he got winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen from Dallas for defenseman Alex Goligoski. That was a deal built to help for years to come. The Kovalev deal is more open-ended -- he is finishing a contract that pays $5 million a season and is eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1.

Shero has not ruled out another move or two before the 3 p.m. deadline Monday. The Penguins could use some help on defense now that Brooks Orpik is injured, but Shero said defensemen are coming at a premium.

The Penguins still have a limited amount of salary-cap space, thanks in part to most of Malkin's $8.7 million cap hit coming off the books after season-ending knee surgery. But that could change with some injured players expected back as soon as this weekend.

"I think we're just kind of looking around for little incremental changes that we could make to round out our lineup," Shero said. "If not, we're going to go with what we have."

The Penguins, he said, are fortunate that owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle have allowed him a great deal of financial flexibility in light of the injury crisis. The Penguins' payroll is well over the $59.4 million salary cap.

Lemieux earned an assist on the Kovalev deal in another way, with what Shero called "a character reference." Lemieux and Kovalev were teammates with the Penguins and remain friends.

"He goes to bat for him as a person and a teammate," Shero said.

Shero said that while there are some risks in obtaining Kovalev, he likened the deal to one at the 2009 trade deadline when the Penguins acquired winger Bill Guerin, then 38, for a draft pick. He was stagnating with the New York Islanders but sprang to life to help the Penguins win the Stanley Cup.

A run in the playoffs is still in Shero's sights this year.

"We anticipate almost all of our guys coming back at some point and being healthy, and we can be a pretty decent team still," Shero said, "so a guy like Kovalev, with his skill level and with the lineup that we have, he can certainly give us a push in playoff position, and in the first round be prepared to play anybody."


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com .


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