OTTAWA – Bryan Murray isn’t worried at all about Alex Kovalev’s reputation for dazzling talent but inconsistent effort.
The Ottawa Senators general manager gave the slick Russian winger a US$10-million, two-year deal Monday, believing Kovalev will bring a dimension to his team that was sorely lacking last season.
“I think you always want your player to play 100 per cent, and that’s difficult over 82 games and if you are judgmental you can find a hole,” Murray told reporters. “I think Alex, they claim, has been a little more inconsistent than he should be. I think the opposite. I think when he plays great he can win a game for you.
“In this organization we’ve got many hard workers and guys that will compete for us every night, but we needed something special to go with that and this guy’s a special player.”
Murray certainly needs him to be, as he tries to retool a team that missed the playoffs and with the Dany Heatley situation still unresolved.
Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer, requested a trade out of Ottawa after his ice time was cut and his work ethic challenged by Cory Clouston after the new coach took over in February.
The drama with Heatley makes the Kovalev signing all the more intriguing, although Murray feels there are no parallels there. Kovalev, he feels, will raise the standard of everyone around him.
“(Kovalev) makes players around him better and I think he’s one of the most exciting players in the league,” said Murray. “I talked with some of our players and they feel he’ll be able to step in and help us a great deal.”
Murray added that the Kovalev signing was not intended to force some movement out of the Heatley camp. Heatley, who has a no-trade clause, rejected a trade to Edmonton last week and forced to the Senators to write him a $4 million bonus cheque July 1.
“There’s nothing new, talked with Edmonton,” Murray said. “They’re like we are, they’re in holding pattern and they still seem quite interested. But I haven’t heard anything and certainly I don’t know if an acceptance to Edmonton is there or not.
“I don’t care where (Heatley) plays. He can play anywhere he wants as long as I can get the right deal. All I care about is what comes back to our club.”
Murray also left open the possibility that Heatley could remain in Ottawa, saying the club can support the two contracts.
“We wouldn’t have done this if we weren’t able to absorb this,” he said, “so we can make it work.”
It was the Canadiens who couldn’t make it work with Kovalev, as earlier Monday Gainey told Montreal radio station CJAD that there wasn’t enough money in the budget to retain him.
A 16-year NHL veteran, Kovalev spent the past six seasons with the Canadiens and in 78 games last season he led the team with 26 goals and 65 points.
Prior to Montreal, Kovalev spent time with the New York Rangers, helping them win the Stanley Cup in 1994, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“He’s one of the high skilled guys in the National Hockey League,” said Murray. “Talking to him he was very happy. He thinks we have a good club here and he thinks he can be a nice addition to it.”
Kovalev is the top-six forward Murray was looking to acquire and despite a rally of about 100 people outside the Bell Centre on Sunday begging the Habs to keep Kovalev, the Senators were able to make the deal.
“When I started talking to them last week I didn’t know if we had a chance or not,” said Murray. “I know he had a couple other offers. I’m surprised but happy that we were able to do it.”