Acquiring Kovalev "A Commitment to Fans"
Thursday, 02.24.2011 / 7:30 PM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
A player with an impressive pedigree like his doesn’t come cheap. So although Pittsburgh didn’t have to part with many assets in order to acquire the Russian sniper from Ottawa on Thursday, the Penguins ownership in Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle still had to step up and make the financial commitment with their newly available cap room to acquire a player with an an elite skillset like Kovalev’s, who has a cap hit of $5 million.
“I think Alexei is making a good deal of money, and from our ownership standpoint, I’m in a great situation with our ownership with Mario and Ron willing to spend the money,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said in a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“This is real money. They’re willing to do that, which is great for us and a commitment to our fans.”
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Kovalev played parts of five seasons in Pittsburgh from 1998 to 2003, the last three of those spent playing alongside Lemieux – who gave his former teammate a “character reference,” according to Shero.
While Lemieux ordinarily leaves decisions about player personnel to Shero and his staff, this is a situation where he provided his input to help bolster the Penguins’ depth up top and prepare them for a deep playoff run.
Kovalev, 38, is a player both Lemieux and goaltending coach Gilles Meloche know well and championed to bring back to Pittsburgh in hopes that he can help revitalize the offense of a team decimated by injuries to their top players – namely Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“Mario has always said, ‘You guys know the players,’” Shero said. “But having known Alexei Kovalev, certainly he goes to bat for him as a person and a teammate and things like that.”
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Adding a proven winner like Kovalev – whose 14 goals through 54 games tie him for second in scoring among healthy Penguins – also shows that the Penguins haven’t even remotely considered throwing in the towel on their season despite their injury situation. They’ve worked too hard for that.
“We have a team here that’s been decimated by injury, but I’m really proud of the way these guys have really battled and they’re getting their points here and there,” Shero said. “They’re scoring late goals and it’s the chance that Kovalev is (going to add) to a group to which we anticipate almost all of our guys coming back at some point to be healthy. I think we’re going to be a pretty decent team still.
So a guy like Kovalev, I think with his skill level that with the lineup that we have, can certainly give us a push. And the goal here is to get a good playoff position and certainly be a team, come the first round, will be prepared to play anybody. He’s just another guy with that skill level that he does have that, if he can continue to raise that for us, I think we’ll be a hard team.”