If Alex Kovalev hopes to get Bob Gainey’s attention when it comes to signing number 27 to a new contract, he’s not doing a very good job of it.
Kovalev, who stands to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, is on a very quiet point-per-game pace through the first 13 games of the season. For all the trouble the Kovalev-Tomas Plekanec-Andrei Kostitsyn line has had getting untracked, it is somewhat surprising to see that Kovalev has five goals and seven assists. Not terrible numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but frustrating because you know Kovalev is capable of so much more.
We saw that last season, when Kovalev put up 35 goals and 49 assists en-route to a complete 82-game regular season. The numbers only tell part of the story. Game in and game out, Kovalev was Montreal’s most dominant forward on the ice, and his contributions on the power play led the Canadiens’ to top spot in that department in the NHL. Kovalev, himself, set the bar with his play in 2007-2008, and so far, Habs’ fans have witnessed a sub-par performance by, arguably, the most popular player on this team and, when he wants to be, one of the most talented payers in the game.
For weeks, Kovalev himself has questioned this team’s inability to look like the club that led the Eastern Conference last season. Even before the Canadiens hit the road for a sketchy four-game trip that ended with that debacle in Toronto, Kovalev felt the Canadiens weren’t performing up to their potential, despite their bright and shiny overall record. Well, Kovalev was right, as the law of averages caught up to Montreal’s inconsistent play on Long Island, Columbus and Toronto.
I think it’s time for Kovalev to look in the mirror the next time he asks that question.
I want to take you back a couple of years ago, when Alex Kovalev was struggling to find his mojo as a member of the Canadiens after the G.M. had acquired number 27 from the New York Rangers for Jozef Balej (who?!). Bob Gainey was asked how he would try to surround Kovalev with the right kind of players who could get the enigmatic Russian going.
Gainey bristled at the question and suggested that maybe it’s Alex Kovalev who needs to make the players around him better, and not the other way around.
If Alex Kovalev wants to remain with this organization when his current contract is up (and he does), he’s going to have to show a whole lot more than he’s shown so far this season. Too often, those dazzling moves of his have resulted in turnovers in the neutral zone. Where is the fire and passion that he brought to the game last season, which led Canadiens’ fans to proudly proclaim: This is KOVY’S team!!!
I’ll tell you this. When this season is over, Bob Gainey is going to look at one thing, and one thing only, when it comes time to sit down and determine whether this team is going to invest another five million, or so, in Alex Kovalev. And it won’t have anything to do with Kovalev’s desire to remain with this organization, or Montreal’s love affair with the affable Russian.
It will come down to his performance on the ice. Period.