Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Duff vs. Pynch, Inaugural Edition - The Kovalev Debate

This will be the first edition of what will probably be a bi-weekly feature on the site where two Sens pundits take on the topic-du-jour (also known as the topic of the day) and see what kind of back and forth banter we can cover. Please add your comments and let us know if you agree with either of us or if we're both completely out to lunch. This week, we cover yesterday's Alex Kovalev signing.

Did we sign a first star, or a misfit toy?

Here’s what troubles me about the Kovalev signing – we’re in the midst of trading a disgruntled player that is said to be moody and streaky at the same time as we’re bringing in another moody and streaky player that is less productive. For all the skills that Kovalev possesses, the guy is a headcase out there, a player so haunted by a need for perfection that he loses focus on the actual game. It isn’t that he doesn’t care or isn’t trying hard (though the argument has been made enough), it is that he wants so badly to be perfect that it takes up all his energy and attention. I fear that Coach Clouston will have his hands full in trying to 1) motivate this player to find chemistry with his new linemates, 2) keeping him focused on the team aspect of the game, which I’ve been told is to win, and 3) get him to buy into the positioning and energy of this system that relies on constant movement in all three zones.

I think you're selling him short on just how good he can be offensivfely. We all know that Kovalev is an exceptional offensive talent. Many consider him to be one of the most purely skilled guys in the league, nay, the world. So why is it that he’s never cracked 100pts in a season? Why are his numbers show less production than Heatley’s? I’ll take linemates for $100, Alex. Now, I didn’t take the time to review Kovy’s linemates over his entire career, but know his most recent success two years ago came on a line with Plakanec and Andrei Kostitsyn – not a real sexy threesome there. That said, do you think Heatley’s numbers are the same without boyfriend Jason Spezza? I think having a natural offensive talent such as Spezza play with a natural offensive talent such as AK27 can produce an amazing duo. I’m interested to see who will also play on that line. I’d like to see a high energy two-way player and not Ilya Zubov.

Whoever this player is will need to help answer your 1-2-3. However, remember this – Kovy wore the ‘C’ two times last year in Montreal. Pardon? In MONTREAL! There is something to be said about being the captain of the most storied franchise in history. That’s a position that requires veteran leadership and warrants respect, things that Ottawa can use in their dressing room following the Heatley saga. It also puts another cup winner in the room, which we have not many of.

I agree that the ‘he hasn’t had a centre like Spezza’ would be a valid argument of his strange tenure in Montreal. That being said, Spezza is a pure playmaker while Kovalev is a hybrid of a playmaker that has a finishing touch when he takes the shot. If both of these guys are elite playmakers, who the hell finishes on that line? I think both players will put up 30 goals but we still need someone to drop in another 20-30 with them. I’d hesitate at putting Alfie up there as it depletes the secondary scoring that we think we just achieved.

But getting back to everything that is wrong with Kovy – do you remember the last time we had a Russian that we relied on for offence? How did that turn out? There are so many similarities between Yashin and Kovalev it makes me sick. The biggest knock on the Sens over the years has been the lack of heart and willpower to get that last goal, to win that big game. Kovalev does not address that one bit. I draw your attention to a game against Boston a few years ago when he took a slash from Travis Green, dropped his stick and clutched his wrist before bumping into a teammate. Meanwhile, Glenn Murray took the idle puck and walked in and scored. As talented as he is, it's those Russian moments that disgust me. How can you tell me we didn’t just sign Yashin 2.0?

Interesting comparison – this actually crossed my mind last night. The word “Russian” stirred up some bad feelings and concern. How he had so much talent for our promising team. How he was big and offensive. How he was kind of slow moving but calculated and good with the puck. How he put himself before the team. How he made unfair demands that weren’t part of his contract. How he became, in the words of BBQ Bob McKenzie, public enemy #1 in Ottawa. The more I thought about it, though, the more I saw similarities between Yashin and Heatley, rather than Yashin and Kovy. Looks like we’re playing hardball with Yashin 2.0.

Back to the word Russian. We now have two. The other? Anton Volchenkov. I realize that we cannot compare Kovy to Atrain, but I would also suggest we don’t compare Kovy to Yashin, either. I agree that his wrist clutching moment was awful – soccer anyone? But to say he’s not a clutch performer is a little harsh. Since 2005, he has 21 points in 22 playoff games. In the same timeframe, Heatley has 35 points in 34 playoff games. Kovy’s also won a Cup, which I think should never be overlooked. Is he a Warrior, as per his line of equipment? Probably not. But that’s where we expect Fisher, Neil, Donovan, Ruutu, Bass and company to step up. Not to mention our beloved Russian, #24.

Kovy is a replacement for Heatley. If Heatley never demands a trade, Kovy never signs with Ottawa. That considered, this is a good signing given what was available. And just think if was can move Heatley for a second liner to play with Alfie, or pick up your Mr. Hillary Duff at $2M or less – I’m excited!

But the Kovalev signing isn’t going to become a depth move, it is a pure replacement move for Heatley. Obviously, we’ll have to withhold judgment until we see the return on Heatley – Cogliano and Penner are legit secondary scorers – but as it stands now, Kovalev will likely have to play on the top line. I can get over the Russian part, I suppose, but the whole thing still reeks of confusion to me. Why would Kovalev even take Ottawa? He referred to us as Stanley Cup contenders – really? Not in the duration of his two-year contract, we aren’t. I’m troubled by the whole “I heart Bob Gainey and I'm in a state of mass confusion from when he said he doesn’t want me, so I just penned my name on the first contract I saw.” I know some people might not care how we went about acquiring him, but I always get a fuzzier feeling in my heart when someone actually CHOO-CHOO-CHOOSES us as opposed to settling for us, which he clearly did.

Sure, he’ll say all the right things, but why Ottawa? We aren’t contenders and we don’t really suit his style. Did he just pick Ottawa because we offered the most money, meaning Murray left money on the table and overspent. Or was this seriously the only remaining offer he had? This must be like how the Oilers feel, knowing that Heatley will only accept a trade there when he knows that none of the other 28 teams want him. To me, that doesn’t spell success for a franchise that is desperately seeking to rediscover its team identity. We went from a skilled, puck possession team two years ago to a total hodge podge of castaways (Kovalev, Penner), superstars (Spezza, Alfie), mooks (Kelly, Shannon) and fourth liners (too many to name). What the hell is the identity of this team right now? Is it some masterful creation that Bugs Bunny is putting together in a boiling pot, or is it the Island of Misfit Toys? To me, AK27 is the Charlie-in-the-Box.


The team identity is Clouston’s job. The way I see it, we have a mixed bag within the 4 lines and 6 D. This can a good thing as long as the lines are formed properly. I’m very interested to see who will play with Spezza and Kovalev. I believe we have a good team, good enough for the playoffs, and we’ll take it from there. However, I’ll stand by my claim that Pascale Leclaire will be the biggest piece to our success.

As for the warm fuzzies? Sure they’re nice. I love that Neil signed for less because he likes Ottawa. I love that Alfie wants to retire in the Nation’s Capital. But let’s face it, that’s not a common trend in the NHL. Players go where the money is and what market’s right for them most of the time. That said, I think Ottawa is a nice fit for Alex. He doesn’t have to move far, he stays in Canada and he’s in a slightly dimmer spotlight (less pressure?). It’s not like he signed with Nashville to hide out for his remaining seasons. I’m sure he knows the importance of hockey in Ottawa and what he’s getting into. This gives me confidence that he’s not just flaking out.

In any case, this topic will last all season. Either Murray’s a genius or a goat. He’ll probably be both month-to-month, day-to-day. One thing’s for sure, it makes for great debate in a wild off season, and a whole lot of question marks to look forward to…

Duff: I bet you a quarter chicken dinner at Swiss Chalet that you've used his name and a scathing F-bomb in the same sentence before Halloween.

Pynch: Tough bet, but I'll take it.


Anonymous said...

My guess ..
Kovy's family is in Montreal .. they'll come Weekends to see him when he's playing .. Days off and the occasional practice day he goes to Montreal ..

Lester Moore said...

Love the cut and thrust of the debate between Duff & Pynch. Keep it up. How about a debate on Heatley sweaters? Then send it to Bruce Deachman at The Ottawa Citizen. Maybe you'll win HIS Heatley jersey.
What are the chances Heatley stays? Or is this a non-starter because of the cap?

pynch said...

I haven't dared mentioned it, but thought about the idea of Heatley staying. On paper, this would be fantastic! In reality, there's no way it happens.

Aside from the cap space issue, Duffy's comment about team identity is crucial here. It is already suspect, and bringing back Heatley only adds confusion and inevitable trouble.

If Ottawa wants a balanced attack from its top two lines, I see Heatley on the second line to play with Alfie and on the second powerplay - these 'demotions' appear to be Heatley's big issue...not gonna happen.

Get Heatley out of that dressing room and change the focus to the year ahead.

Blu Manchu said...

Pynch wins in a landslide. Love the passion.

hockeydan said...

Duff, you ignorant slut.