Has Alex Kovalev played his final game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens?
That’s the question Habs’ fans are asking themselves after general manager Bob Gainey sent jaws dropping today at the team’s practice facility when he informed reporters that he has told Kovalev to take a few days off in what the G.M. acknowledged “wasn’t a normal player move.”
And how long will Kovalev cool his jets from the sidelines? “A short period of time,” on the one hand. But on the other hand, Gainey refused to speculate on the likely hood of Kovalev returning to the lineup.
“I felt that in the games that I watched, in my discussions with the coaching staff, and my understanding of Alex, that it was my suggestion, for him to relax for a couple of days and stay away from the team. We’ll evaluate over that period of time and make decisions accordingly.”
Those decisions could come as soon as Saturday, when the Canadiens return home to face the Ottawa Senators. But in the meantime, the Habs have arrived in Washington to face the Capitals Wednesday night before they move on to face the Penguins in Pittsburgh Thursday night.
Minus Alex Kovalev.
With the Mar. 4 trade deadline just weeks ago, Gainey was asked if Alex Kovalev is on the market.
“I haven’t talked to any teams about him,” said the G.M.
If teams were interested, would he talk?
“We’re in the trading season,” was Gainey’s response
Gainey clearly isn’t enamored with Kovalev’s work ethic. That, coupled with his lack of production, has left number 27 in a state of suspended animation with this organization. Gainey suggested if Kovalev had twice as many points and goals as he has right now, he’d be willing to overlook those shortcomings, saying “we probably wouldn’t be standing here.”
Gainey says Kovalev wasn’t happy when he received the news, but added that Kovalev agreed it could be a good thing in the long run.
“Alex and I have a good communicating relationship. He’s proud. He doesn’t want to leave this team. He doesn’t want to not be with the team when he feels like they need him most. So he was not in direct agreement with me. But at the same time I think he felt that he could trust me enough so that my suggestion to him could be positive for him and team.”
All right. Let’s step back and look at the situation from that standpoint. How could such a move be positive for Alex Kovalev?
The only way Alex Kovalev will get a chance to prove that Gainey’s move will be a positive one, for Kovalev, at least, is if the G.M. gives number 27 another shot. That is the only way Kovalev will get an opportunity to prove himself. To prove that he belongs on this team. To prove that he can rise to the challenge, when the team needs him the most. Otherwise, Gainey’s words will have rung hollow.
And that is not Bob Gainey’s style.
Yes, I know that Gainey said that this is the trading season. Gainey was simply stating the obvious. More than that, I believe he was sending a message to Kovalev with that kind of statement. Not that Kovalev needs any kind of reminder, after today.
So, if you’re asking me if I think that Alex Kovalev has played his last game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, my answer would be:
I don’t believe that Gainey is prepared to write off his enigmatic all-star at a time when they indeed need him the most.
What Gainey did do, however, was rock the very foundation of this franchise with his move to send Kovalev to the sidelines, and send Sergei Kostitsyn packing to Hamilton, while re-calling Gregory Stewart from the Bulldogs.
His unspoken message to every single player on this club?
You want to play for this team, then play.