It’s been a number of hours since Dmitri Chesnokov’s article on Alexei Kovalev was posted on Puck Daddy and I’m a bit taken aback by the number of Senators fans who give two shits for what Kovalev has to say about anything anymore. Even if it is just some japes and barbs directed towards the city’s traditional sports media and former head coach Cory Clouston.
Sure, I realize that some of this can be attributed to the fact that it’s the beginning of August and the nation’s capital is starving for whatever kind of information that it can get. Or the fact that there are many in this city who don’t think much of Ottawa’s sports media community or Cory Clouston. Nonetheless, we’re still talking about a player who has received the lion’s share of criticism for being unable to live up to the lofty expectations created by the 2-year $10 million contract – despite the fact that no one twisted management’s arm to sign him to that deal. (Or did. Depending on whether or not you believe that The Euge ‘allegedly’ pressured Murray into getting the deal done.)
Like it or not, Kovalev’s reputation preceded his arrival into town. He was a highly skilled mercenary brought in to satiate a hockey market that was still reeling after Dany Heatley’s trade request was leaked earlier in the offseason. And like every other city that Kovalev left town, fans in Ottawa felt like they would had they exited a Chinese restaurant that served its food covered in MSG. We left feeling like he should have had more out of the experience.
Yet, if you were to look back at Kovalev’s NHL career, there has never been much fluctuation in Kovalev’s even strength production. It has been fairly consistent. (Yes, even when he came to Ottawa.) And whenever he did have an exceptional season, it was because his numbers were boosted considerably by vastly improved power play point production.
For the past two years, I used to joke with friends that the difference between a good Kovalev game and a bad one was one or two goals. I never noticed a considerable deterioration in his work ethic or effort. He always struck me as a player who relied too heavily on his innate natural talent to get the job done on the ice. Perhaps it was for this reason that he grew frustrated by the media dogging his reputation for a player who shows up every second or third game.
Of course it didn’t help that he used every opportunity to absolve himself of any blame when a microphone was placed in front of him.
In Ottawa, he was a scapegoat for Cory Clouston. In Pittsburgh, he wasn’t a good fit for Dan Bylsma’s style of play. And if it doesn’t work out in the KHL next season, it might be because the transition to a larger ice surface is difficult for a player who has grown accustomed to playing on the smaller North American surfaces.
Ironically, the funny thing about Kovalev’s legacy is that he reiterates that everything he has done in the game was for his team and his fans. Yet in Montreal, he spurned the only fans and media that seemed to gravitate towards him. Preferring instead to act like a hired gun – chasing the money and term to play for the division rival Senators.
It should, in the same interview that Chesnokov translated, Kovalev said, “I didn’t want to spend my summers sitting on travel bags. I realized that I will not get a contract longer than one year in North America. Atlant gave me a two year contract.”
Yes, the Kontinental Hockey League’s Atlant Mytischi. The same organization that Ray Emery went to after failing to find a NHL gig of his own. Beware Alexei! With hair like yours, you need to watch out for the equipment manager who loves to put hats on his players’ heads while they sit on the bench!
I digress. With Kovalev, he always had to be comfortable and in Ottawa and it never materialized under Cory Clouston’s watch. And the revelation that the former coach had trouble communicating with his players is not a foreign one. And neither is his disdain for the local media for that matter.
But let’s take a look at what he had to say about Clouston first…
“You have to treat players kindly. If you leave someone on the bench you should explain why it happened. This is coach’s job. But when a player is benched and doesn’t understand what is happening, he becomes lost.”
“In two seasons I still couldn’t understand the ideas of our coach Cory Clouston. It seemed that he scoffed at some players.”
Communication, like pairing suits and ties, was never Cory Clouston’s forte. So allow TSN’s Scott Cullen to point out why Kovalev was problematic last season…
Proportionate to his ice-time, Kovalev had the fifth worst even strength giveaway per 60 minutes of ice-time ratio in the NHL last season and the second worst even strength assist per even strength giveaway ratio in the league.
Truth be told, Clouston’s had difficulty managing egos. Heatley wouldn’t play for him. Kovalev too. Sergei Gonchar lifts his arms up in frustration because he doesn’t know how to describe the kind of system that Ottawa played under the former coach. What else needs to be said?
Moving on, here are some of Kovalev’s thoughts on the media below.
“And the fact I am criticized… There are different journalists. My opinion of Ottawa journalists is that they don’t watch hockey at all. When they fly with the team and go through the [metal detector] at an airport, their bags are filled with beer. You realize right away what these people do when they write about the NHL.
Twitter follower @BobbyBKelly put it best, “Honestly, I’m just insulted by the insinuation that hockey watching and beer drinking aren’t compatible activities. Son of a bitch!“
Although I doubt that the TSA has allowed persons to bring liquids back on planes in their carry ons, even if true, I can’t help but wonder whether Kovalev is just bitter that Ottawa’s media declared their alcohol at the border instead of smuggling it on his plane for a fee.
Joking aside, in light of last summer’s treatment of Jason Spezza, I know a lot of fans will rejoice and relish this cathartic blast directed towards the local media here in Ottawa. For years it has seemed like there have been players who have been subjected to the wraths and criticisms of local scribes because they’re easy targets. Names like Vinny Prospal, Radek Bonk, Joe Corvo, and Brian Elliott immediately spring to mind. That’s not a complete list by any means but there’s been a prevailing undertone in this city that a number of fans are dissatisfied with the way that the Senators have been covered.
Fair or not, I’m eagerly anticipating their rebuttals.
“Let them make up nonsense about me. But I am happy with what I have done. I have played not for myself but for the team and fans. Teammates have never said a bad word about me. Fans are happy. I am approached on the street in Montreal, New York and told one thing: ‘Don’t take the bad to your head. We always support and love you. You’re the best.’
“I am annoyed when people write [nonsense]. Figuratively speaking, to earn half a hundred dollars they are ready to make up some garbage. But they show that they’re doing their job.”
As hilarious as Kovalev’s comments were, it’s tough to get to get too worked up about them. As one emailer wrote, his comments contained some truth, some fabrication, some omission.
An astute observation. Sounds like his presence in an Ottawa lineup.