2003-02-15 / Sports

Let The Trades Begin! A Metro Hockey Update

Hockey Columnist
By Andrei Petrovitch

Hockey Columnist


The cash-strapped Pittsburgh Penguins dealt Alexei Kovalev(L) to the New York Rangers February 10, 2003 in an eight-player deal that sent the All-Star right wing back to his former team. The Rangers, desperate to make the playoffs after missing out five years in a row despite their league-leading payroll (already more than $70 million), reacquire Kovalev, the NHL's fourth highest scorer who has 27 goals and 37 assists for 64 points. Kovalev is seen skating around Montreal Canadien Donald Audette in Pittsburgh on December 28, 2002. \\ Reuters/Jason Cohn)The cash-strapped Pittsburgh Penguins dealt Alexei Kovalev(L) to the New York Rangers February 10, 2003 in an eight-player deal that sent the All-Star right wing back to his former team. The Rangers, desperate to make the playoffs after missing out five years in a row despite their league-leading payroll (already more than $70 million), reacquire Kovalev, the NHL's fourth highest scorer who has 27 goals and 37 assists for 64 points. Kovalev is seen skating around Montreal Canadien Donald Audette in Pittsburgh on December 28, 2002. \\ Reuters/Jason Cohn)

This week’s random ramblings concern Kovalev, the Isles and the great Trottier debacle. Wait a minute…that means these ramblings aren’t so random after all…oh, never mind.

- We all (including yours truly) wanted to see Bryan Trottier succeed. But, alas, the partnership between him and the New York Rangers just couldn’t work. The team was a disorganized mess on the ice; breaking out of the defensive zone was often an exercise in futility, and defensive coverage was non-existent. Players such as Bobby Holik and Darius Kasparaitus were utilized ineffectively, with the former wondering aloud all season long about precisely what his role is. Discipline was also non-existent, as Trottier preferred to use a "nice guy" approach to running practice. The team also lacked any discernable system or strategy. Furthermore, Trottier refused to creatively match lines, thus depriving the Rangers of the ability to send out its best players against the opposition’s weakest. Finally, he rode both goalies, Mike Dunham and Dan Blackburn, into the ground and had shown no desire in reducing the absurd amount of minutes that Mark Messier was playing. Case Closed.

- Islander general manager Mike Milbury blew it…again. He failed to acquire Alexei Kovalev, meaning yet another useful player heads to the Rangers. Yes, the Update has heard the argument that the Isles may have been unable to include the $4 million necessary to consummate the deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins…but he could have forced the Rangers to do something self-destructive.

Imagine if Milbury had made such a serious offer – say, a first round pick, Raffi Torres, Trent Hunter and Oleg Kvasha – that, in order to thwart it, Ranger GM Glen Sather would have been forced to include his prospects, like Jamie Lundmark or Dan Blackburn. Even if Sather still won out, it would have been a pyric victory. The Rangers, depth wise, would be so weak that even Kovalev wouldn’t be able to save them. But, considering that Kovalev was acquired for little more than spare parts (more later), it is extremely unlikely that this scenario occurred. By not at least competitively bidding, Milbury missed out on a chance to weaken his team’s greatest threat.

- Speaking of possible trades for the Islanders…Brad Isbister, Raffi Torres, and a second round pick to the Los Angeles Kings for Ziggy Palffy. Too far fetched? Fine…then how about Oleg Kvasha and the pick to the Buffalo Sabres for Miroslav Satan? This is probably a lot more realistic.

- Yes, he’s overrated. Yes, he’s a defensive liability. But Alexei Kovalev will certainly be VERY helpful to the Rangers. First of all, the trade cost little for the team: a role player (winger Mikail Samuelsson), two minor-league regulars (defensemen Joel Bouchard and Richard Litner), a borderline prospect (Rico Fata), and $4 million in cash. No legitimate prospects like the aforementioned Lundmark or Blackburn were included.

The immediate benefit of Kovalev is his speed, which will seem like a godsend to the injury depleted lineup. He also has an amazing slapshot, which can prove useful on the team’s inconsistent power play. His presence also gives the team a legitimate finisher for all the playmaking talent already present. Imagine if you will a line of Kovalev – Petr Nedved – Pavel Bure. Okay, stop dreaming. If the Matt Barnaby – Bobby Holik – Eric Lindros line stays effective, the Rangers will then have two real scoring threats. The contrasting nature of each line – the former is more finesse oriented while the latter is far more physical – can make it extremely difficult for opposing defenses to match up effectively.

Realistically, it may be too late for the Rangers to save their season.

Regardless of whether or not the team plays the .700 hockey necessary to make the playoffs, the games will certainly be interesting.


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