Demotions No Longer Enough to Revive Alex Kovalev

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 3: Dan Girardi #5 of the New York Rangers and Alex Kovalev #27 of the Ottawa Senators play for position in front of the Rangers net during the first period at Madison Square Garden on October 3, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

It looks like Alex Kovalev is returning to the Ottawa Senators fourth line.

This would be his second rotation there, having spent a few shifts there earlier this month. After complaining about the demotion, he was returned to the top line.

Kovalev has just seven goals and 16 points on the season. It’s not surprising, though, because Kovalev’s career has been defined by streakiness.

In fact, I made a chart of his goal production since he entered the league in 1992. I didn’t control for games per season, but he’s been relatively healthy, averaging 72 games per season over 17 seasons.

As you can see, Kovalev’s goal production looks like the EKG of someone having a heart attack:

chart of Alex Kovalev's goal production

But this shouldn’t be a surprise to the Senators. I have to believe that before they signed him, someone looked at his career stats.

The Senators will be free of Kovalev after this season, but they still seem pretty intent on dumping him. The Blues keep coming up as potential trade destinations, but I can’t imagine why a young, energetic team would trade for an expensive, elderly, low-energy player.

I can see why Ottawa coach Cory Clouston would demote Kovalev again. He’s trying to motivate Kovalev into playing his way back onto a top line. But I’m not sure that’s how Kovalev thinks. He loves ice time, and he obviously cares about the line he plays on since he complained last time he was demoted, but as he’s demoted more, it becomes less of a shock to him.

As it becomes less of a shock, the effectiveness of the demotion becomes diluted.

If Clouston really wants to send Kovalev the message that he needs to get his game going, he should consider scratching him. Not playing is something Kovalev will notice and feel.

Kovalev loves being on the ice. Don’t forget — this is the player that was once left on the ice for a seven minute shift as a punishment for taking too many self-extended shifts, and didn’t pick up that the supershift was supposed to be punitive.

Kovalev will be content, at least to a certain extent, as long has he’s out there playing hockey. If Clouston takes away hockey completely, Kovalev might work a little harder to keep his job.

And if scratching Kovalev doesn’t eventually translate into more scoring for him, the Senators are still a better team with Kovalev off of the ice. It’s not like he brings a tremendous defensive game to the table when his offense isn’t there.