Let's all get over the hate for Alex Kovalev

This is the sound of settling.

I'm not going to try and argue that the Ottawa Senators are getting good value for their money when it comes to Alex Kovalev. Although his 50P (18G, 32A) in 83GP seems half-decent at first, it's skewed upwards by some huge games that conceal the many games where Kovalev has been all but invisible. And it doesn't note that in the last 23 games Kovalev has played, he has a grand total of three points.

But we get to a point where continually ragging on the guy gets old. Fast. I've never been a huge critic of the signing; I thought it was to much money for a player who would have limited effectiveness, yes, but I thought Kovalev would bring a much-needed scorers touch to round out the Senators offence. That hasn't happened, at least not consistently. But Kovalev hasn't been terrible in Ottawa, as much as some fans might want to think he has.

When he was brought in, Kovalev was immediately hated by Sens fans. I think some of it had to do with his time on the Montreal Canadiens, and his comments about loving that time even after signing in Ottawa. And Jeremy Milks of Black Aces has long maintained the Sens fans harbour an automatic distrust for skilled players, hearkening back to Alexei Yashin, and thinks that's a big reason why Jason Spezza hasn't been fully embraced by Ottawa--and, one could assume, this would also affect Kovalev's reputation in Ottawa. I think he's on to something. But Kovalev, according to calculations by François Neville of The 6th Sens, was the twenty-ninth most valuable right-winger in the NHL last year--proving what we all thought, that he is overpaid (he was around the top-ten highest-paid right-wingers last season), but not horrifically.

And let's be honest: The Ottawa Senators have much bigger problems than the seemingly disinterested play of one 37-year-old right winger.

Ottawa needs better from Kovalev, to be sure. But they need better from just about every player on the roster. They need players to start playing together, to stop taking stupid penalties (especially too-many-men penalties), to use positional hockey to compensate for an apparently slower-than-average team, to buy into a functional breakout that can work around the soft defence corps to mitigate oppositional forechecking, and they need to get their powerplay going. Until even a couple of those get together, it won't matter whether Kovalev is playing like he did ten years ago, or whether he plays like he might ten years from now: The Senators will still be losing more games than they win.

There have been calls for the Senators to send Kovalev to the Binghamton Senators, either as punishment or to help him 'find his game'. In either case, it would offer no help to the Senators.

Demoting Kovalev would do little beyond satisfying a spiteful few Senators fans who seem to resent the guy for signing a $10M contract when it was offered to him. It wouldn't save owner Eugene Melnyk any hassles, as he'd still be on the hook for the full salary owed to Kovalev. It wouldn't make any significant cap space for the Senators, because Kovalev's salary--signed when he was over 35 years old--would still count against the salary cap (aside from $100,000 in cap relief), according to Article 50.2, Section C, Paragraph IV of the NHL CBA (see page 190). And it wouldn't likely improve our team: The lack of cap room made would limit the players we could bring in or call up, and even if we did that, it would restrain any moves we might be able to do later in the year.

A 37-year-old is not going to find his game by riding buses playing in the AHL. While his age certainly plays a big part in explaining why Kovalev lost his game in the first place, a bigger part of that is the off-season knee surgery he's coming off of.

You know what might help Kovalev find his game? Continuing to play with young, fast, hard-working players like Ryan Shannon, Peter Regin, and Jesse Winchester. Those guys would be able to do the hard work along the boards, in the corners, and on the forecheck, while Kovalev does what he does best: Watches plays develop, gets into position, shoots when shots present themself, but more often makes slick passes to open teammates only he has noticed.

And if it doesn't help him find his game? Then there's not much else that can be done. I'll be honest, I am a little cynical about whether or not a player in Kovalev's position--despite his physical conditioning--can possibly get back to even the way he was playing last season. But the Senators have little choice in the matter: Kovalev has the remainder of this season to prove he can still play professional hockey. He is not going to leave Ottawa, because no other team will acquire him (not through trade, waivers, or even re-entry waivers), sending him the the AHL would do the team more harm than good, and, to be completely honest, I think he's actually pretty popular in the dressing room.

So we've just got to come to terms with it, Sens fans. Kovalev and our team are in this for the long haul (or at least another 76 games). Settle in, and lower your expectations for him; if he regains his form, you'll be pleasantly surprised. If he doesn't, then he's just met your expectations.

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