For Kovalev, it's all about the Cup
Newest Senator says he'll do his best to bring hockey's holy grail to Ottawa
|Alex Kovalev stole the show in earning most valuable player honours at the 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal. Now he'll put his many offensive talents on display for Ottawa Senators fans (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images).
"I'm not a young guy anymore," said the 36-year-old right-winger, who has signed a two-year contract to join the Ottawa Senators. "I'm definitely looking forward to winning another Stanley Cup before my career is over and I retire. Any time I go to a different team, that's the only goal I have, to win another Stanley Cup."
Kovalev helped the New York Rangers end a 54-year Cup drought in 1994 and believes he's given himself a chance to earn another ring by signing with the Senators. The native of Togliatti, Russia, spent his past five National Hockey League seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, one of Ottawa's biggest rivals in the Northeast Division.
"I think Ottawa is a pretty good team and a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup and some good players," Kovalev told reporters on a media conference call in explaining his decision to sign with the Senators. "I felt there is maybe something missing that I can bring in and help the team be a contender for a Stanley Cup."
If you're wondering what that "something" might be, check out one of the many videos on the Internet that extol the offensive genius of Kovalev', who earned MVP honours at the 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal. The highlight reel he has created over the course of a 16-year NHL career, which has produced 394 goals and 941 points, is seemingly endless.
"I can be in the mix on the first line or maybe somewhere on the second line. That way, everyone will have some extra energy to have a strong season and maybe compete for the Stanley Cup."
Kovalev admitted he expected to remain with the Canadiens for a sixth season. On June 30, the day before the opening of the NHL's free-agency period, he was presented with a two-year offer that was reportedly identical to the one he later accepted from the Senators. When Kovalev didn't accept the Habs' proposal right away, Montreal went on a July 1 spending spree that essentially wrote the Russian forward out of its future plans.
"Everything happened so quick," said Kovalev. "We didn't really have much time to respond and then they went in another direction.
"I was thinking my career was going to end in Montreal but a lot of things can go in certain different directions or you take a different path ... It's part of the job, it's part of the business and there's nothing you can do about it."
He doesn't harbour any bitterness toward the Canadiens or their general manager, Bob Gainey, and but "feels bad" about uprooting sons, Nikita, 7, and Ivan, 5, from school and friends. In Kovalev's mind, the six games Ottawa will play against the Habs rank the same as the other 76 on the Senators' 2009-10 schedule.
"It's not the first (move) for me," he said. "I've been traded to Pittsburgh, to Montreal, to New York and never felt that way, that I'm going to destroy the other team because of what they've done to me. I'll treat those games (against Montreal) the same way as the ones against Vancouver or Chicago or anyone else."
Through friends in Montreal, Kovalev heard about the more than 100 fans who staged a protest outside the Bell Centre on Sunday, demanding the Canadiens re-sign him.
"It was definitely hard to swallow because Montreal fans always gave me great support," Kovalev said from Kazan, Russia, where he returns each summer to direct a hockey school for underprivileged children. "It was because of them that it was so much easier to play in Montreal and do my best for the team."
"I'm not really looking to try to be the superstar (in Ottawa) or try to be the hero or the best," he said. "I'm just going to do my part, what I do best, and help the team win the Stanley Cup. That's all I can do. I'm not trying to compete with anybody. I know the Ottawa Senators have a lot of good players."
Kovalev bristles at the suggestion that he is an immensely gifted but enigmatic player who doesn't always show his best on the ice.
"People somehow have this feeling about me, that I only play when I want to play," he said. "But I always play the way I can. It doesn't matter about the situation. I can play on the fourth line, the fifth line, it doesn't matter. I can play with young players or older players. I know what I'm capable of.
"Sometimes, I try to do too much because I feel like I can change the game or make the team successful. Sometimes it works in a good way, sometimes it works in a bad way. But I always play with my heart."