Alex Kovalev Lets Penguins Create the Illusion of Improvement

07 February 2011: Alex Kovalev (27) of the Senators during a game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Do you get the feeling Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero isn’t feeling the playoffs this season?

That’s what the re-acquisition of Alex Kovalev feels like. Shero wanted to pick up a player, but he didn’t want to give anything up and he didn’t want a long-term commitment.

Kovalev’s streakiness is both legendary and maddening, but Kovalev has a solid history in Pittsburgh and the fans seemed anxious for Kovalev to return.

Shero loves these kind of low-risk, high reward trade deadline rentals. They don’t always work out, but Shero doesn’t expect them to. That’s why for every Bill Guerin, there’s a Miro Satan.

But re-acquiring Kovalev is especially uninspired. He’s an aging player who seems to have completely lost his competitive drive. Any skill he has had atrophied being stuck on a horrible Ottawa team. While no single player can replace the injured Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, Kovalev seems especially incapable of rising to the occasion.

And I think this lack of inspiration is due to Ray Shero not seeing this year’s Penguins going very deep into the playoffs. He doesn’t want to give up any assets of consequence because he knows that ultimately, it probably wouldn’t bring his team any closer to the Stanley Cup.

The Penguins’ trade for James Neal was about Pittsburgh’s future, since Neal is signed until 2012, and then becomes a restricted free agent. He’s part of Shero’s ongoing project to find a winger for Sidney Crosby that doesn’t break the bank.

But the trade for Alex Kovalev is about looking like the team is making a playoff push without surrendering very much while expecting even less.

Kovalev’s real value in the trade is making Pittsburgh look like it’s doing something to improve for the playoffs while really doing nothing significant.

In so many ways, it’s the role Kovalev was born for.

If Kovalev thrives in Pittsburgh, Shero looks like a genius. If Kovalev fails in Pittsburgh, everyone will shrug their shoulders and say ‘What did you expect for a conditional draft pick?’

Shero says he’s preparing the Penguins for the playoffs but this move shows he’s getting the Penguins ready for a quick post-season.

You can’t fault a GM for being realistic. And it’ll be nice to see Kovalev finally live up to someone’s expectations.