At 37 years of age, almost everyone can agree that Alexei Kovalev has seen better days. He’s only recorded one assist in six games with the Senators this year and is averaging just over 15 minutes in ice time each game, a career low. Last season Kovalev scored 18 goals and recorded 49 points in Ottawa, one of the lowest point totals of his career.
Now, at his age it’s a given that he will start slowing down. No one expects him to play like a 25 year old any longer. But there’s a point in time with most NHL players where age catches up to them. We’ve all seen players have a decent campaign one season and then completely degrade during the next. Has time caught up to Kovalev?
Senators GM Bryan Murray might be thinking that it has. Today he called out Kovalev to the media:
“It looks like his skating isn’t where it was last year. I think there’s lingering effects maybe from the surgery he had. I’m hoping that’s part of it and, as time goes on, he gets going.”
It looks like Kovalev will start tomorrow night’s game on the Senators fourth line. It simply doesn’t make sense to have a player making $5 million a season receive such little ice time. But do the Senators have a choice? Murray has been hinting that the Senators may be looking to shake up their struggling team with a trade, but is there really a trade market for Kovalev at this point in time?
Bill Guerin, who had similar numbers to Kovalev, is looking at retirement as an option after failing to land a suitable deal this season. Granted, Guerin is a few years older than Kovalev, but his asking price is also much lower. If he can’t find a place to play this year, will anyone be willing to give up assets and cap space to take on the struggling Kovalev?
The last few years have been rough on Kovalev. He was sent home by the Habs in 2009, then suffered a completely torn ACL in April of last season and missed the Senators’ playoff appearance. Offseason surgery was supposed to repair the injury but, as Bryan Murray mentioned, it looks like Kovalev has lost a step this year.
Kovalev responded to Murray’s comments by saying he feels better now than he did last season:
“Last year, people were talking about me not skating, either, so I don’t know where is the truth… Last year or this year? I’m skating better than last year. Me, personally, that’s the way I feel.”
One of the main criticisms of Kovalev’s game has been that he doesn’t play with enough passion every night. During the preseason he tried to show some passion, picking a fight with Francois Beauchemin of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Things didn’t turn out that well for him.
The Ottawa Senators are not exactly lighting up the scoreboard this year. They’re 1-4-1 on the season. Their goals for is ranked 22nd in the NHL and their goals against is ranked 27th. It may be early, but if things continue down this route for Ottawa, they will need to make some changes. Is attempting to move Kovalev, either through a trade or by putting him on waivers, an option for the Senators this year?