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The Price of Alexei Kovalev
Call it an NHL trade, but don't call it a hockey trade.
The New York Rangers buy a star from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Join the Discussion
"Is the Alexei Kovalev deal one of the worst trades in recent NHL history?"
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Feb. 10/03 - We've all seen it on those nature shows: The exhausted antelope falls behind the herd. The lion, galloping in graceful, terrifying slow motion, seizes his chance. After a brief chase, the hunt ends with a merciless lunge to the neck.

The image tells you all you need to know about one of this season's biggest NHL trades. With barely an effort, the carnivorous New York Rangers brought down the Pittsburgh Penguins and walked away with Alexei Kovalev.

"I don't think it's a salary dump at all," said New York Rangers' general manager Glen Sather. No word on whether he managed to keep a straight face.

Alexei Kovalev is the fourth-leading scorer in the NHL, among hockey's most dynamic and creative forwards. And what did he fetch the Pittsburgh Penguins on the NHL trade market? A couple of useful but unremarkable skaters (Mikael Samuelsson and Joel Bouchard) and a wad of cash (said to be $4 million). The teams exchanged a handful of fringe players as well. The only important name here is Kovalev's. It's unlikely that anyone else involved will ever be an impact player.

Pittsburgh fans are outraged, and with good reason. Player for player, this is as bad as any NHL trade in recent memory. Not only that, but the Penguins have handed Alexei Kovalev to a division rival, a team they are supposed to be fighting for a playoff spot.

It's no secret that Kovalev was being offered around because the dirt-poor Penguins could not afford the huge raise he will command in his next contract. Any trade they made was likely to disappoint, because recent history shows that the market for high-priced superstars is very limited. But even by those standards this is a shockingly one-sided deal. Other stars dealt for financial reasons, like Jaromir Jagr and Pavel Bure, at least brought a few legitimate prospects in return.

Craig Patrick, the Penguins' general manager, is a veteran of the NHL flesh trade and you have to believe he could have found a better offer. At least he could have played it out until the March 11th trade deadline to see if anyone wanted to up the ante. Or why not wait until the summer and make a deal on draft day?

The fact that he went for this deal and went for it now suggests that the Penguins' financial situation is utterly desperate. The exchange chops Pittsburgh's annual payroll by about $5.5 million, plus they get the $4 million cash payment. Perhaps the creditors are at the door in Pittsburgh and the Rangers were the only team Patrick could turn to for a bailout of that magnitude.

This is a great day to be a New York Rangers fan. But they have seen this scenario before. Everyone thought the Rangers held the keys to the kingdom when they picked up Pavel Bure about a year ago. New York has huge problems on defense, and Alexei Kovalev isn't going to solve any of those.

As for the Pittsburgh Penguins, consider them martyrs to the NHL's free-spending ways. Any team boasting Mario Lemieux, Martin Straka, Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Kovalev is capable of dazzling feats and buckets of goals. But Jagr and Kovalev are gone, with almost nothing to show for either of them.

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