SportsPG delivery
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Home Page
PG News: Nation and World, Region and State, Neighborhoods, Business, Sports, Health and Science, Magazine, Forum
Sports: Headlines, Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Collegiate, Scholastic
Lifestyle: Columnists, Food, Homes, Restaurants, Gardening, Travel, SEEN, Consumer, Pets
Arts and Entertainment: Movies, TV, Music, Books, Crossword, Lottery
Photo Journal: Post-Gazette photos
AP Wire: News and sports from the Associated Press
Business: Business: Business and Technology News, Personal Business, Consumer, Interact, Stock Quotes, PG Benchmarks, PG on Wheels
Classifieds: Jobs, Real Estate, Automotive, Celebrations and other Post-Gazette Classifieds
Web Extras: Marketplace, Bridal, Headlines by Email, Postcards
Weather: AccuWeather Forecast, Conditions, National Weather, Almanac
Health & Science: Health, Science and Environment
Search: Search by keyword or date
PG Store: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette merchandise
PG Delivery: Home Delivery, Back Copies, Mail Subscriptions
Pittsburgh Penguins
Sports Headlines Steelers Pirates Penguins
College Headlines University of Pittsburgh Penn State West Virginia
Other Local Colleges Scholastic Sports AP Wire Sports City Guide Sports
Penguins get Kovalev, end 17-month ordeal

Thursday, November 26, 1998

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

In the past 17 months, Petr Nedved has contributed nothing to the Penguins.

    Related article:

Analysis: Nedved dealt ... at last


And there is no guarantee that over the next 17 months, Alexei Kovalev won't contribute exactly as much. But there also existsa chance that he could blossom into one of hockey's finest forwards.

Kovalev is the supremely gifted but equally enigmatic right winger the Penguins acquired from the New York Rangers yesterday, along with center Harry York, for Nedved, center Sean Pronger and defenseman Chris Tamer.

The deal also included a $2.5 million cash payment to the Penguins, one which could fluctuate depending on Nedved's performance in New York.

Still, no variable in the deal is greater than Kovalev, whose enormous talent is unquestioned.

"What do I think of Kovalev?" Penguins right winger Jaromir Jagr said yesterday after the trade announcement. "He's probably one of the five most talented guys I've ever seen."

If that sounds like hyperbole, consider that it's a common opinion in hockey circles. Kovalev stands 6 feet 2, 215 pounds, glides across the ice as swiftly and smoothly as anyone in the NHL, and has a soft passing touch to go with his powerful shot. And he's only 23.

So, what's not to like?

In a word, goals.

For all his flash and dash, Kovalev has never scored more than 24 goals in any of his first six years in the NHL. This season, he went without a goal in his first 11 games before scoring three times in his past three games. He also has four assists.

But seven points in 14 games is not the stuff of which superstars are made.

"Until Alex understands that the object of hockey is to put the puck in the net, he'll continue to have trouble," Rangers General Manager Neil Smith said last night. "I'm not sure to this day that he understands that. Petr seems to have a better grasp of that than Alex does."

That's why the Rangers made such a push for Nedved the past three weeks. They are one of the league's lowest-scoring teams and had been in dire need of a top-flight center to support Wayne Gretzky.

Nedved, 26, fit the bill. He had 78 goals in his final two seasons with the Penguins before spending the past year-and-a-half embroiled in a rancorous contract dispute with them. Yesterday, Nedved, who had been playing for Las Vegas in the International Hockey League, signed a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Rangers that included a $1 million signing bonus.

If Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick was feeling any relief about finally ending the stalemate, he wasn't showing it at his Civic Arena news conference yesterday.

"It was an unfortunate situation, but if I'm relieved about anything, it's that we were able to get equal value for it," Patrick said. "That's the only thing that mattered all along."

The Florida Panthers had also made a serious overture for Nedved, offering right winger Radek Dvorak and a variety of other players, along with $2.5 million in cash.

Patrick chose to go with Kovalev.

"He's just a real good, solid hockey player," Patrick said. "He has great one-on-one skills. He's got great speed. He's got a great shot. We think in our environment he's going to be very, very productive."

Patrick shrugged off questions about Kovalev's consistency or scoring touch.

"When Petr arrived here from New York several years ago," Patrick said, referring to his 1996 trade with the Rangers, "people questioned whether he'd fit in with us. And he blossomed here and became a great performer, very productive. We expect the same from Alexei."

York, 24, is a 6-2, 220-pound grinder who has never scored more than 32 points in a season, that coming in 1996-97 as a rookie with the St. Louis Blues. This season, he has been scratched more often than he has played, suiting up for just five games and recording no points.

"He was very successful when he first went to St. Louis," Patrick said. "He's got good skating ability, good stick skills, great size. We think he can fit in and do a good job for us."

The Penguins had little trouble parting with Tamer and Pronger, both of whom had been used sparingly by Coach Kevin Constantine this season.

Tamer, 28, was a healthy scratch seven times and seldom hit the ice when he dressed. A fourth-round pick by the Penguins in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, Tamer first made the big club late in the 1993-94 season and has been the team's top fighter in recent seasons. This year, though, he struggled mightily in his own end and, two weeks ago, demanded a trade.

"I hate to see Chris go," Patrick said. "He's been an integral part of our organization for a number of years now. But he's not getting much ice time, and we feel that in order to get a guy like Kovalev we had to include Chris."

Pronger, 25, had been an NHL regular most of the past two seasons but was demoted by the Penguins to Houston of the IHL after a lackluster training camp. He was recalled last week and had no points in two games.

On the surface, the trade would appear to do little to help the bankrupt Penguins' bottom line. Tamer was making $925,000, Pronger $500,000. Kovalev will make $1.5 million this season, after which he will become a restricted free agent. York will make $385,000. That's a deficit of $460,000, not including Nedved's salary.

But the Rangers' cash payment will more than offset the Penguins' losses, and actually should help the team sustain its operations.

Because the money is part of the team's usual business practices, it is not expected to come under scrutiny from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Bernard Markovitz. Nor did it draw any special attention from the NHL, which last weekend threatened to veto any trade in which cash was the dominant factor.

Kovalev was flying his private plane yesterday afternoon when the trade was announced and could not be contacted in time to report for the Penguins' game last night in Washington. But it is doubtful he could have played anyway. He is still feeling the effects of a check Saturday night from San Jose Sharks right winger Owen Nolan that bruised his left shoulder. It is the same shoulder that was separated earlier in the season.

That could limit his chances of making his Penguins debut tomorrow night against Nedved and the Rangers at the Civic Arena, but it won't do much to dampen his new teammates' enthusiasm about his acquisition.

Most of them expressed a sentiment that Kovalev would flourish away from the hot lights of Manhattan.

"They put too much pressure on him," Jagr said of the Rangers. "I think it's going to be a lot easier for him in Pittsburgh. I think that's the best thing for him, to change teams."

"I'm sure Kevin and the coaches will work with him, try to get him to understand what's expected every night," said left winger Stu Barnes. "Hopefully, he'll understand that."

The possibility also exists that the Penguins will use Kovalev with their other two Russian forwards, German Titov or Aleksey Morozov.

"They like being together," defenseman Bobby Dollas said. "Sometimes, that's what it takes."

Most players also expressed relief that the Nedved ordeal had finally ended.

"I knew he wasn't going to play here again," Jagr said. "For him, it's good, because he gets a chance to play in the NHL again. The fans would be all over him if he came back."

"You look at the team we have," Dollas said, "and you look at what kind of team we could have."

The book will be out for quite a while on which team won the trade.

As for the Nedved dispute?

"Nobody really won," defenseman Kevin Hatcher said. "We should be glad it's over."

bottom navigation bar Terms of Use  Privacy Policy