Friday, October 1, 2010

Pondering Alex Kovalev's Career

By Eloquence

Two nights ago I caught 17 minutes of the pre-season game between Ottawa and Toronto. I watched because:

a) I needed some sports, ESPN is unbearable, and DirecTV doesn't carry Pittsburgh City League playoffs.
b) I was curious see how our friend Sergei Gonchar was doing on his new team.

#55 looked pretty mediocre. Granted it's the pre-season, but I thought he looked a step slower. He had a handful of turnovers on the PP as well. The Senators PP reminds me of the Pens -- lots of talent upfront and at the point, but unable to spread the defense and move without the puck so as to create open short-range shots. (Is Mike Yeo moonlighting as the Sens PP consultant?)

As noted here and elsewhere, Shero was right in not matching the offer for Gonchar. Nothing in the 17 minutes made me question that, but it's hard not to miss him a little. Those lasers from the point never got old.

It also took 7 minutes into the 2nd period before I realized Kovalev was even playing. I don't say that sarcastically. Maybe he's getting reduced time, but it's unfortunate to see his game diminish. He's one of my favorite ex-Pens. As I got nostalgic for Kovy, I began to wonder if he's one of the most naturally gifted players of all-time (different from calling him one of the greatest). Hear me out for second:

His skating with the puck both east/west and north/south was unreal. He could carry the puck the length of the ice as well as anyone. His wrist shot was incredible (accuracy and quick release) and his slap shot was loaded. What other players can claim this combination of skills? Checkout #2 and #1 on this video:

So why didn't he have a better career? A few thoughts...

I took a look at Kovy's career numbers today. In only three of his 17 seasons did he finish with more than 70 points (76, 84, and 95). In six of those seasons, he played more than 70 games and finished with 26 points or less. In 12 seasons, he finished with a negative plus/minus.

It was 2001-02 when he had his career high -- no easy feat considering the state of clutch-and-grab. He followed that year with 76 points in 67 games. But outside of those two years, what the hell happened?

I actually think Kovalev might have been a bit too gifted for his own good. He just expected his skills to come through so he didn't have the incentive to get gritty and score the ugly goals. And he didn't play with a chip on his shoulder like all the great players do. This leads to a incredibly inconsistent and underachieving career.

This is the difference between him and Mario. Some defender would piss him off and Mario would get angry and take it to him. Kovalev would avoid confrontation instead of elevating his game and getting aggressive. As a result, he could be shut-down by defenders.

With a Crosby-like work ethic or a Mario-like killer instinct, Kovalev had the skills to be one of the best of all-time.  Nonetheless, what a wrist shot.

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