OTTAWA (AP) - Alex Kovalev signed a two-year, $10 million deal
Monday with the Ottawa Senators, leaving the rival Montreal
Canadiens after parts of five seasons.
Kovalev, a 16-season NHL veteran, led Montreal with 26 goals and
65 points last season. He failed to reach a new deal before the
free-agent season opened last Wednesday, and Montreal made several
moves to spend its money elsewhere.
Kovalev earned $4.5 million last season and became an
unrestricted free agent on July 1.
"I think you always want your player to play 100 percent, and
that's difficult over 82 games and if you are judgmental you can
find a hole," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said Monday.
"I think Alex, they claim, has been a little more inconsistent
than he should be. I think the opposite. I think when he plays
great he can win a game for you.
"In this organization we've got many hard workers and guys that
will compete for us every night, but we needed something special to
go with that, and this guy is a special player."
Earlier Monday, Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey told
Montreal radio station CJAD that Kovalev would not be returning to
the team. Gainey said he offered the 36-year-old forward a new
contract last week, but the crafty winger took too long to mull
over the deal.
"We hadn't agreed on the amount, but another player was willing
to come and join our team," he said.
"So the dollars that we had allotted there for a particular
position were grabbed up by another player."
Montreal has also decided not to retain Saku Koivu, its longtime
captain and popular forward who spent his first 13 NHL seasons with
The Senators will be counting on Kovalev to help them get back
to the playoffs after Ottawa missed out last season following 11
consecutive appearances. His role could become even bigger with the
status of star forward Dany Heatley unresolved.
Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer, requested a trade from
Ottawa after his ice time was cut and his work ethic challenged by
Cory Clouston after the new coach took over in February.
The drama with Heatley makes the signing of Kovalev more
intriguing. Murray doesn't see a parallel between him and Heatley,
but believes Kovalev will help his teammates improve.
"(Kovalev) makes players around him better and I think he's one
of the most exciting players in the league," Murray said. "I
talked with some of our players and they feel he'll be able to step
in and help us a great deal."
Murray said he isn't trying to pressure Heatley, who has a
no-trade clause. Heatley rejected a trade to Edmonton last week and
forced the Senators to pay him a $4 million bonus on July 1.
"There's nothing new, talked with Edmonton," Murray said.
"They're like we are, they're in a holding pattern and they still
seem quite interested. But I haven't heard anything and certainly I
don't know if an acceptance to Edmonton is there or not.
"I don't care where (Heatley) plays. He can play anywhere he
wants as long as I can get the right deal. All I care about is what
comes back to our club."
Murray also left open the possibility that Heatley could remain
in Ottawa, saying the club can support his contract and the one
given to Kovalev.
"We wouldn't have done this if we weren't able to absorb
this," he said.
The Canadiens went on a shopping spree last week, signing free
agent forwards Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, and defensemen
Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill. They also traded for high-priced
center Scott Gomez, sending forward Chris Higgins to the New York
Rangers in the six-player deal.
More than 100 people demonstrated outside the Bell Centre on
Sunday, begging Gainey to re-sign Kovalev, who was acquired in 2004
in a trade with the Rangers.
Gainey said he considered the gathering as more of an homage to
Kovalev rather than a protest.
"I think that Alex has really left a mark on people and the
hockey fans in Montreal, and the fact that he won't be returning
with our team is a difficult and emotional separation for them,"
In 1,151 career NHL games with the Rangers, Pittsburgh and
Montreal, Kovalev has 394 goals and 547 assists.
"He's one of the high skilled guys in the National Hockey
League," Murray said. "Talking to him he was very happy. He
thinks we have a good club here and he thinks he can be a nice
addition to it."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)