Is/Was Alexei Kovalev A Star?

A couple of days ago, I posted a piece detailing Alexei Kovalev and the criticisms of him by the fans and media alike. In the post entitled, A Post on Karma, I wrote a particular paragraph that helped spurn some discussion in the comment section:

Maybe at some point, the media in this town need to re-evaluate the term star. Kovalev’s never been one. Case in point, the only DVD that he has been featured on is his own. Don’t get me wrong. Five million dollars is a lot of money. But it’s not star money. Name value doesn’t equate itself to on-ice performance. As a player who has consistently demonstrated the ability to post approximately 60 points per season, his salary (or contract term for that matter) isn’t that offensive and it’s reflective of what secondary scorers can earn.With a little bit of research, people could finally understand that in four of the past five seasons, Kovalev’s put up approximately 30 even strength points per season. Whenever there has been a flux in his point production, it’s been because of the variations in his power play point totals. If we stop holding him to this fabricated standard that he’s a star, we’ll be better for it and can just appreciate him as the power play specialist that he is.

Rather than bury the discussion in an older thread, I thought it’d be beneficial to bring that article’s comments to light in a new post to further the discussion. Anyways, I digress. The aforementioned paragraph helped provoke this response from commenter Steve HL:

I just wanted to argue your point of Kovalev never being a star. In his 20s and mid 20s he was very much a star-calibre player for the USSR/Russia and Rangers. He even played with an edge in the day. That isn’t the case anymore, but we need to remember the early days of the athlete.

Fair enough. In regards to my comment on Kovalev not being a star, here’s how I feel:  Although he’s been very good at times, I feel that he’s never been the biggest attraction on any team that he’s played for. (With the exception of some very bad Montreal teams.) I just find that the term “star” is being thrown around too liberally and it’s overused to describe good, but not great, players. When I think of star players, I think of the cream of the crop. Hall of Fame caliber players. When I think of “superstars”, I think of generational talents like Lemieux, Gretzky, Ovechkin and Crosby. (Ed. note: Maybe you disagree, which is fine. This is just how I feel.)

Not to be outdone, Steve’s opinion of Kovalev as a star player was shared by commenter Dr. K who posted two consecutive comments:

If anyone question his results by points then mention that he lead in points in Pitsburgh (he had quaility players to play with) Montreal 4 years straight in a defensive system. Lead NHL in 2008 in power play points. And look at the goals they are perfect goals. Appreciate greatness because he is a very special player. Support him well in Ottawa and look how he will respond. An artist with skills that are no match to anyone else.

and…

MVP in 2009 he owned Luango look at the ease and beauty of this wicked shot wicked.
If he is not a STAR player and talent why is it that he was named MVP? He said he was going to win it and he did. He can if he is well surround it. Any Star in this league has first line players. Who he played that we can say the same. Pitsburgh OK. Guess what he delivered Rangers? He was a key player for the cup in 1994.
Montreal? no first liners there. And guess what he still managed to lead this team in a defensive system. Just look at different angles you may have a an other perspective.

For the sake of discussion…

During his time in Pittsburgh, the only campaign in which Kovalev led the team in points was the tumultuous 2001/02 season. It should be noted that with the team facing financial ruin, the team could no longer afford to keep Jaromir Jagr, an impending free agent, and dealt him during that offseason to the Washington Capitals for picks and prospects. (Ed. note: If you ever want to determine who is/isn’t a bandwagon Pens fan, just mention the names Kris Beech, Ross Lupaschuk and Michal Sivek. If they gasp in horror and go into the fetal position, you know what you’re dealing with.) It also didn’t help that Mario Lemieux spent the majority of the season on injured reserve recuperating from his hip injury.

As Dr. K. correctly asserts, Kovalev did lead the Montreal Canadiens in scoring. (Only on three occasions, not four.) Despite the quote defensive system that the Canadiens allegedly played when Kovalev lead the team in points, in terms of goals allowed, the Habs best finish was allowing the 12th least number of goals. Stymying!

I’m not disputing the fact that Kovalev is an all-world talent. Or that he’s unbelievably skilled with his puck control . However, for the sake of numbers, let’s look at a statistical comparison here. To keep in the same vein of a player who has lead some good defensive teams in scoring. If I told you that Kovalev’s point-per-game production average of 0.806 (990 points in 1228 games played) was incredibly close to Jason Arnott’s of 0.794 (873 in 1099 games), wouldn’t you at least start to question Kovalev’s production? (Ed. note: By comparison, Daniel Alfredsson’s 992 points in 1002 games played is 0.99 PPG. If you also took Arnott’s PPG average and carried that over Kovalev’s 1228 games, he’d only have 15 less points than L’Enigma.) And like Kovalev, even Arnott has a Cup ring. (Ed. note: With New Jersey in 1999-00.)

To clarify matters, I never said Kovalev didn’t have talent. He has tons of it. Like Mike Fisher, he’s very toolsy. Unfortunately, like Fisher, he hasn’t gotten the most out of his abilities. Being the MVP in a NHL All-Star Game should never be the criteria for being a star. Or anything else for that matter. In fact, any game in which Brad Marsh can score or in which checking and attention to defence is frowned upon, is exactly the kind of game that Kovalev should thrive in.

Thoughts?

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