Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Alexei Kovalev: The One and Only

With the Sens in the final (love 'em or hate 'em), the Bulldogs in a final of their own and Markov signing, hockey talk in Montreal has passed by Kovalev for the moment. To me he remains the most interesting topic to touch off my blog, as he, more than any other topic, can truly polarise Habs fans into two camps. Sometimes I think about Kovalev and the Habs, and someitmes things around me make me think of him and his relationship with the team and the fans.

Where I work, on the river, we were seeing a yellow amphibious car drive (swim) by daily for a while. The first day this thing came by, my gosh, it was something. We all jumped up and gaped as the thing laboured against the flow of the water on its way past. As days went by, we'd all in varying degrees crane our necks to see the car puttering up and down. Then one day, people stopped looking. It's just an amphibious car. I never thought I'd see the day where an amphibious car going past would be a mundane event.

I can see that this is what has happened to a certain extent with Kovalev and the Canadiens supporters. Back in March/April 2004, this player was an exclusive find. He made moves we had never seen before. Let me re-word that: he made moves – that, we had never seen before (or at least in a long time). He still makes those same moves, but maybe we're tiring of them. At the end of the day, it's the winning we're all after, I think. Kovalev became that yellow amphibious car to Habs fans, he became familiar, mundane, banal. People started asking the practical questions like: "If he's so talented why did he score less points than Michael Ryder?"; and "Can the team afford to pay for these moves, if it doesn't pay off in goals?"

Well, amphibious cars aren't the most efficient way to get around most times, that is, until the bridges are blocked...

What Alexei Kovalev gives the Canadiens is a unique proposition. He gives them alternate routes to scoring when traditional avenues are blocked. And, to my mind, he's the only one who does on this team. And that's why he is valuable.

In addition, he is invaluable to the powerplay. He takes away a defender, since opposing teams can't afford him the freedom of their zone to skate and shoot. He carries into the zone. Older Habs fans will remember the Steve Shutt (as a coach) years where dump and chase and nothing else meant powerplays were mostly spent chasing the puck in our own (and not the opposition!) end. And, on top of that he does occasionally score.

The grass is always greener

Of course there are negatives, but are his any worse than the alternatives?

It's easy to look at other teams and praise their players who we don't watch day in, day out. It's our habit in Montreal. It's exciting to get a new player. But then when they've arrived, somehow they're worse than they were elsewhere. Players once gone are always better in our eyes. Is this our team? Our city? Our media? I think it's a matter of perspective. If winning is the goal, then we should try to think of players more in terms of games they helped win (or lose) and less in terms of how many points they score.

In that light Kovalev doesn't look so bad afterall.

What way forward, then, from here?

Maybe we should try and get Kovalev a centre, instead of trying to unload him. Maybe we should allow him to play with Koivu. The maybes could go on and on.

I think we should accept him for what he is. A forward who can enchant and entice some nights, but most nights plays like the rest of the team, not worse. But remembering, Kovalev is also a bloody great PP forward, and someone who can win some games every year all on his own (and from what we've seen, this includes the playoffs).

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