Alex Kovalev has done some wonderful things on NHL ice in his long hockey career. I personally loved his elbow to Darcy Tucker's chops, and the infamous "drop the glove, retrieve the glove and carry on with the puck" move against the Bruins a couple of seasons ago. He's created some masterpieces with stick and puck that rival those of the greatest savants in hockey history.
But as I watched L'Artiste's unveiling in Ottawa yesterday, the scales finally fell from my eyes. When Kovalev was a Hab, I always tried to make sense of him; the Great Enigma who was so sensitive and misunderstood. I tried to understand how such a prodigious talent could be so inconsistent and frustrating. He must be playing hurt, I'd say. Or his linemates aren't playing up to his level. Or any number of other excuses for why a guy whose teammates consistently christened him "the best puckhandler in the league" could so often dangle himself right out of puck possession.
But when I watched him yesterday, smiling in his Senators sweater, lacking only the pomp of the Sens' Trojan to usher him into his new city in the style befitting a dearly-acquired superstar, my first thought was "I wish he'd just shut the hell up." There he was, earnestly telling the Ottawa throngs how he'd be coming to the Sens with the intention to compete hard every night. He talked about how his previous inconsistency was merely an invention of the media, and how he's never had a problem with a coach. He trotted out the old lines about being misquoted when he slammed the Habs in a Russian newspaper, and about his wish to play until he's fifty.
It's all a pile of manure and it all comes down to Kovalev looking out for number one. Yes, he's got a ton of talent. No, he does NOT use that talent every night, and when he doesn't, he sucks...badly. He's very, very lucky to be making millions of dollars to bring his skill to the game when he feels like it, and the Senators are just the latest team hoping he'll bring it consistently for the first time in his life. Well, sorry to tell you Brian Murray, but after a thousand-plus NHL games, that ship has sailed. Kovalev is what he is, and all the crap about how he's planning to compete hard every night is just another shovelful from the pile he's been spreading for the last fifteen years.
I have no problem with a guy looking after himself first. But cloaking it in various shades of hurt feelings while saying all the right things is just BS. For once, I'd like to hear Alex Kovalev tell the truth: "I will play like my hair's on fire when I'm motivated. There are several circumstances under which I shall be motivated, including when someone cuts me on the ice, when I'm trying to stick it to a former team (look out, Habs), when I'm voted into the All-Star game and when I'm pushing my luck with management and have to get back in the good books. Other than that, you can expect at least one long stretch during the season in which I will produce absolutely nothing except copious giveaways. I'm quite likely to fake or at least exaggerate an injury at some point when I'm not scoring, and there's a good chance I will open my big yap and say something controversial that will undoubtedly undermine either the coach, GM or my teammates. Despite all of that, I will do enough to maintain the illusion that I'm one of the most talented players in the world, even though my own national team is on to me and no longer invites me to play in the big tournaments. You can count on me to do good things for charities and kids, but if you're expecting me to win you a Stanley Cup, get real. I will do some beautiful things with the puck a dozen or so times a season, and I will play the fans so they'll go crazy for me and forgive me the frequent games in which I forget to show up. If all the stars align I might even have one last really good year, but don't take me in your hockey pool, just in case." See? Wouldn't that be refreshing?
In the meantime, all his seeming regret about the way things ended in Montreal fail to move me as it once would have. I was never an ardent Kovy-phile, but I liked his skill and his ability to score on the power play. I hated his apparent disinterest on too many nights, and the one-man rushes that caused so many gifts for the opposition. In the end though, the plain truth is he dithered long enough over a fair offer in Montreal to cost himself a contract there. Now he's a Senator and will be hosting the Kovy Smoke and Mirror Show in the nation's capital. I've learned in the last couple of days that if Kovalev and the senators in Ottawa's chamber of sober second thought have one thing in common, it's their mutal ability to talk the talk while doing very little walking of the walk.