Alexei Kovalev is back in a New York Rangersí uniform. After weeks of
rumors and speculation, Glen Sather pulled a deal to bring one of the most
skilled offensive players in the world back to
, the place where he started his career.
Every Rangersí fan remembers the excitement that
Kovalev brought to the Garden. He was a magician with the puck. It seemed
like he could defy the laws of physics. Of course there were times when it
seemed like he was playing by himself out there. For every big goal he
scored, for every death-defying skating trick he pulled, there was a play
where heíd skate in circles all over the rink, refusing to give up the
puck. For every great memory we have of Alexei Kovalev contributing to the
1993-1994 Stanley Cup run, there is a painful memory of him hanging at the
red line, refusing to play defense.
Despite these lapses, Alexei Kovalev is a much more
mature player now. Heíll never be a great defensive forward, but his
offensive skills more than atone for his defensive shortcomings. He is,
without a doubt, one of the most skilled offensive players in the world.
There isnít a team in the NHL that wouldnít love to add a player of
Kovalevís character to their squad. Many Rangersí fans were concerned,
however, that it would be impossible to bring him back without sacrificing
the teamís future. The Rangers surprisingly were able to pull off the
deal without giving up too much.
According to several reports, the Rangers refused a
deal that would have brought Kovalev back to the Big Apple for Jamie
Lundmark and Dan Blackburn. As exciting as the thought of Kovalev back in
Rangersí blue is, this deal would have hung a black cloud over the
Rangersí already bleak future.
Jamie Lundmark is finally starting to show flashes
that would explain his status as a top-10 draft pick. Although he clearly
has to work on his physical play, he is showing some scoring touch. Maybe
Lundmark will never be a bona fide first line center in the NHL, but
thereís no reason he couldnít become a solid playmaker. Now is not the
time to give up on him. Heís finally being given a chance to succeed and
he is making the most of his opportunity.
The prospect of a future without Dan Blackburn is
even more frightening. Rangersí fans must accept the fact that Mike
Richter is probably never going to play again, and if he does return he
will only be a shadow of his former self. While Mike Dunham is a very
solid goaltender, it is clear that
is the future of the organization. Granted, he has looked shaky at times,
but we shouldnít forget the enormous burden that he was asked to
shoulder at the beginning of the season. Try to ignore
ís numbers. He is a 19-year-old goaltender who plays with the poise of a
grizzled veteran. He has a short memory, which is very important for a
goalie. If he gets shelled one night, he comes back strong and confident
the next. Mechanics can be taught, poise cannot. Letís also not forget
how bad the Rangers are defensively.
had to stand on his head to get a lot of the victories that he did.
Instead of losing the few players that might actually
give Rangersí fans something to cheer about in five years, Sather was
able to get Kovalev for spare parts and cash. While the exact amount of
money is yet to be officially reported, the loss of a few million dollars
is obviously not something to worry about when the team has a nearly
unlimited budget. Mikael Samuelsson is one of the only Rangers who
consistently played defense and hustled. He will obviously be missed, but
you canít get something for nothing. Obviously, Samuelsson is not good
enough to play defense all by himself, and it would be very surprising if
the Rangers looked much worse defensively than they already do. Rico Fata
will probably never be more than a third-line player. Itís hard to not
appreciate his speed and his willingness to work hard, but once again, his
loss is negligible. Joel Bouchard and Richard Linter are borderline NHL
players. While both have made occasional contributions, neither are a key
component of the team.
The Rangers also got some bodies in return. While
theyíre not an impressive bunch, they might be able to contribute. Janne
Laukannen will make up for the loss of Bouchard and Linter if he can stay
healthy, which admittedly is a risky proposition. Dan LaCouture is clearly
only a fourth-line player, but he can step in and fill the spot now
vacated by Rico Fata. He is a hard worker and tries to make up for his
lack of skill with toughness and hustle. Mike Wilson is nowhere near ready
to play in the NHL and may not ever make it, but if youíre going to take
a risk on a defenseman, he might as well be enormous (
is 6í 6Ē).
As fond as our memories of Brian Leetch, Mark
Messier, and Mike Richter are, they are not going to be in Rangersí
uniforms for much longer. There is very little in the teamís farm system
to replace them. Pavel Brendl, Manny Malhotra, Kim Johnsson, and Tomas
Kloucek are now just names from the Rangersí past. Outside of Lundmark
, there is very little young talent in the organization to get excited
about. Dale Purinton could turn into the stay-at-home defenseman that the
team has sorely lacked since the retirement of Jeff Beukeboom, but it will
take a great deal of restraint for the Rangers to not deal him at the
trade deadline. Outside of Garth Murray and Fedor Tjutin, most of the
prospects in the farm system are huge question marks at best.
are in order for Glen Sather for making the right deal for Alexei Kovalev.
Clearly, he is not what the Rangers need in the long-term. Until this team
develops some chemistry and learns to play defense, all the snipers in the
world wonít help them. But this deal works because of the small price we
had to pay. While I donít agree with many of the deals that Glen Sather
has made in his tenure, Iíll be the first to line up and praise him for
pulling the trigger on this deal
Additional stories from this Author: