I know a lot of people are happy Bob Gainey has sent Alex Kovalev home, either to re-ignite the listless winger's desire to play hockey or to put the finishing touches on a trade that sends Kovalev away for good. I agree Gainey had to do something dramatic to get the team's attention during this horrendous slide. And I agree the "something" had to involve Kovalev who's been the most obvious slacker on the team. Last year's 84-point team leader who played with passion and drive just about every night has become disinterested. This year his production seems to be in inverse proportion to his lazy penalties and giveaways. I know Kovalev has always been guilty of the latter, but as Gainey himself said yesterday, if he was putting up points, the deficiencies in his game would be overlooked. As it is, though, without the points, the bad habits are much more glaring and are a poor example for young players who look to the veterans for guidance.
Although I know Gainey had to move, I'm not happy about it. I'm really sorry it's come to this. Kovalev has to be one of the most colossal wastes of talent in NHL history. There's not a player who's shared ice with him who doesn't marvel at the man's fantastic skills. He's been called the greatest puckhandler in the game today, a force, brilliantly creative on the ice and unbelievably talented. Yet he continues to lack the effort needed to put the talent to its best use. It's like having a gorgeous sports car in the driveway with an empty gas tank: it looks great, but it's not going to get you where you need to go.
So, I'm sad to see Kovalev seemingly headed out of Montreal. I'm sad the Habs' most talented player doesn't have the dedication to use his talent to help the team every night. I'm sorry he'll go down in history as one of the Hall of Fame's greatest "might have beens."
I suppose there's still a chance Kovalev has really been sent home to rest his aging, possibly injured, body for a few days, and that the rest will do him good. Perhaps he'll be back on Saturday feeling better and with a great desire to show everyone who doubted his heart that they were wrong. Somehow, I doubt it.
A man of Bob Gainey's stature doesn't take such a drastic measure against an employee in public unless the bridge isn't only burned, but the ashes have been swept up and a ferry installed in its place. I think Kovalev won't play for the Canadiens again unless no team will meet whatever minimum price of draft picks or prospects Gainey's willing to accept for him. And if it comes to that, if there are truly no takers and Kovalev remains a Hab, I think it will be disasterous. Kovalev pouted two years ago when he was demoted to the fourth line for his lacklustre play. I dread to think what his reaction might be if he's reinserted into the lineup after a public humilation by his boss.
I hate that it's come to this. I know something had to give. But I can't help thinking the Canadiens' problems go deeper than Kovalev. He's just the saddest, most public symbol of the whole sorry mess.