General Manager Bryan Murray did not release financial terms, but TSN is reporting that the deal is worth $10 million over two years.
"I think he's one of the most entertaining players in the league and I hope our fans are real excited about this," Murray said. "I know our management team and coaches are very, very happy and the players I've talked to think it's a great, great move for this organization."
Kovalev led the Canadiens in goals (26) and points (65) in 78 games in 2008-09. He had 2 goals and 1 assist in four playoff games, capping an up-and-down stint in Montreal. His best season with the Canadiens was 2007-08, when he scored 35 goals, added 49 assists, was named a Second-Team All-Star and helped lead the Habs to their first division title since 1992-93.
"All I know is when I coached or watched our team play in the last couple of years against Montreal, every time he came on the ice, I was scared to death he was going to be the difference in the game," Murray said. "Some nights, he certainly was."
The native of Togliatti, Russia, has played 1,151 NHL regular-season games, scoring 394 goals and adding 547 assists for 941 points with 1,200 penalty minutes. Kovalev has 44 goals and 54 assists for 98 points in 116 playoff games.
In 1993-94, his second season in the NHL, Kovalev had 9 goals, 12 assists and 18 penalty minutes during 23 playoff games to help the New York Rangers win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
Kovalev was chosen by the Rangers with the 15th pick in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. He was acquired by Pittsburgh on Nov. 25, 1998, along with Harry York for Petr Nedved, Sean Pronger and Chris Tamer. Pittsburgh sent Kovalev back to the Rangers on Feb. 10, 2003, along with Dan LaCouture, Janne Laukkanen and Mike Wilson for Mikael Samuelsson, Rico Fata, Joel Bouchard and Richard Lintner. On March 13, 2004, he was traded to Montreal for Jozef Balej and a second-round selection in the 2004 draft.
Kovalev is a three-time NHL All-Star and was the MVP of the 2009 game at Montreal in January. He has represented his country internationally eight times during his career, winning gold medals at the 1992 Winter Olympics and 1992 World Junior championship, and bronze at the 2002 Olympics.
"When he plays great, he can win a game for you," Murray said. "In this organization, we've got many hard workers, good workers that will compete for us every single night. But we needed something special to go with that and this guy is a special player in that he's got the ability to make players around him better.
"He's one of the most exciting players in the league. Talking to a couple of our players, they feel that this guy will step in and really help us a great deal."
Material from team online media was used in this report