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Pens GM Shero's Transcript Following Kovalev Acquisition

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Below is Penguins general manager Ray Shero's transcript following the team's acquisition of Alexei Kovalev from the Ottawa Senators.

On what Kovalev will bring, especially in terms of scoring, and the questions about the inconsistencies in his game

I think when we try to sign a player or acquire a player via trade, we always talk about their character and what they can bring to our team both on and off the ice. We’ve done a lot of due diligence on Alexei Kovalev. People here well before me know him well and know him and how he is with the players and the kids in the locker room. We’re very comfortable with that. Kovalev is a guy, with where our team is right now and the injuries that we have – we’ve talked about (how) we need to add some skill to our lineup. For the cost in terms of assets, we thought it was worth the risk. We’re hoping he’ll get back to playing some of his better hockey here and I think with his 14 goals, it makes him one of our leading scorers. You can see what we’re missing on the ice with some of these guys, so we’re hoping with the short-term here, he’ll be energized to play and play for Dan (Bylsma) and play for our team and for the city. When I talked to him this afternoon, he was very, very excited to be coming back to Pittsburgh. And it’s his birthday today, so it’s also a great birthday present.

On the significance of the cost it took to get Kovalev:
It’s similar to what we did on the (Bill) Guerin thing. We have two seventh-round picks this year, so it’s our seventh-round pick and in the event that we go in a playoff round, it goes to a sixth-round pick instead. So it’s nothing more than trying to give. We’re taking the salary back, so at a certain standpoint we’re making that commitment so that in the event we do do something in the playoffs, it gives them a better pick. So that’s all that was.

On if he feels there’s a need for defense before Monday with Orpik’s situation and if there is a commitment in the ownership and the cap situation for an opportunity to address what it means to now have three guys that won’t be in the lineup for the next couple of days:
When we did the deal with Dallas, it was important for us to get a guy like Matt Niskanen in the deal just because we’ve gone so long in the season without anything happening to our defense – all the injuries have happened up front. So it’s the law of averages the way it’s been going. I figured something might happen. We expect Paul Martin back after the weekend, so it’s not a long-term thing. The same thing with Brooks Orpik, we probably have a four-week window here and he’ll be back. The cost, asset-wise, of trying to get a defenseman right now around the league is pretty high. And I think we have some guys, no different than when we gave our guys opportunities from Wilkes-Barre up front, we’ve got guys in WBS on defense that have played well for us. They’re either our draft picks or free agents who have performed well, they are certainly deserving of a chance given this window of opportunity to come up here and play for us. Outside of something coming my way that’s not there right now, I don’t anticipate picking up a defenseman at this point. But we’ll see. You never know what could happen by Monday at 3 o’clock. But things could happen in our games at the weekend, so we’ll have to wait and see.

On how he plans to use Kovalev on the PP and who Bylsma is inclined to play him with on even strength, and if he plans to keep him beyond this year:
I haven’t looked beyond this season, I haven’t thought beyond this season. I said the same thing about Billy Guerin – we picked him up, it was really for the stretch stride to see how he fit in, and we ended up keeping him. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it in the summertime – We’ll see how things work out for him and for us. In terms of how Dan will utilize him, I haven’t had a great opportunity to talk to Dan in terms of who he might play with. Once the deal was finalized, Dan was kind of heading out to the plane. But we have talked about him over the last few days. I would anticipate him, with what we’re missing on the half wall on the power play without Malkin and Crosby and things like that, up high. He’s a guy who can create some offense and open things up, he’s got the hands and patience with the puck. He still has that. He can still shoot it. So we have got guys that have a good net-front presence on the power play, we have guys that can do that, we certainly have guys who can handle the puck and make some plays. He’ll be a nice addition for us. He’ll get plenty of opportunity to kind of see where he’s going to fit in, let him find his way a little bit and we’ll go from there.

On when he’ll be available for games:
He’ll be there (Friday). He’ll be there tonight in Raleigh, so that’s the anticipation. He had no immigration issues, he’s legally a U.S. citizen as well, so he’s going down tonight. I talked to him about an hour ago. He said he’s excited and he’ll be there tonight and he’ll be ready to go tomorrow.

On if this is a winger for Crosby or if it’s offense in the case that Crosby doesn’t return, and if this is a move he doesn’t make if he doesn’t think the team can make a legitimate run in playoffs:
I think Alexei is making a good deal of money, and from our ownership standpoint, I’m in a great situation with our ownership with Mario and Ron willing to spend the money. This is real money. They’re willing to do that, which is great for us and a commitment to our fans. We have a team here that’s been decimated by injury but I’m really proud of the way these guys have really battled and they’re getting their points here and there. They’re scoring late goals and it’s the chance that Kovalev is – to a group which we anticipate almost all of our guys coming back at some point to be healthy – I think we’re going to be a pretty decent team still. So a guy like Kovalev, I think with his skill level that with the lineup that we have, can certainly give us a push. And the goal here is to get a good playoff position and certainly be a team, come the first round, will be prepared to play anybody. He’s just another guy with that skill level that he does have that, if he can continue to raise that for us, I think we’ll be a hard team.

On how Kovalev is playing right now and if he has any experience on the point on the PP in his past:
Yeah, he’s played on the point in the PP in his past. He’s a guy that we’ll utilize on the right side as well, he’s a right winger, left shot. So he’s got a great deal of experience there. I’d say he’s playing well now. This is one of these things that when we make deals like this, I go back to the Billy Guerin situation. And that worked out, you couldn’t write a better story. This is totally separate, but I do know when you’ve got guys that are in situations where Billy was with the Islanders at the time – Billy was not playing well. And we took a chance on him based upon certain things. The same with Alexei Kovalev. Their team is not having the season they expected, and it’s difficult to play in those situations. So we’re taking the chance that he’ll translate his game and his skill level in playing here in Pittsburgh. I think he’s going to play like Billy Guerin. He’s a proud player, he’ll want to do well. That’s the hope. I said a week or two ago to somebody that when you make these deadline deals, you’re taking the chance on some of these guys, the rental guys. The deal we made earlier in the week with Niskanen and Neal certainly is for the bigger picture in the longer run. So it’s a little bit different. But the information I have on Kovalev and where we are as a team with our injuries, we’ll take that chance.

On having the cap room or the inclination to make another deal before Monday’s deadline:
Yes and yes. We will continue to look to see by Monday what we can do and we will see. We’ve got two games back-to-back here. (So we’ll) see what our injury situation is. We should maybe get Dustin Jeffrey back for (Friday) night’s game and (Mark) Letestu shortly after. Paul Martin should be back after the weekend. So we are getting guys closer but as we have seen, as soon as we play a game we lose another guy usually. So we will have to wait and see.

On Kovalev’s public disagreement with Ottawa’s coach Cory Clouston:
I’m not even really aware of that to be honest with you. I don’t know the situation with Alexei and so forth. But I am confident with our coaching staff here and from what I hear about Alexei as a guy and a teammate. When you make these deadline deals you’re taking a little bit of a chance. I do think we have standards in terms of character and commitment and things like that. He is a guy that wants to play in Pittsburgh, so we’re going to hope for the best. From talking today, I do know he is excited about being back here. I do know also that from hearing his comments and from talking to him he was also very thankful for his time in Ottawa. It didn’t work out as he would have hoped but hopefully he can have a good run for us here at the end of the year.

On whether there is a concern about a lot of forwards playing a lot of minutes, particularly Jordan Staal:
I smile at that just because you mentioned Staal eating up minutes. Jordan played 29 minutes last night against a hard team, against a team like San Jose who is probably playing their best hockey of the season. They had all hands on deck and had a strong defense. Jordan played 29 minutes and he kept looking at the end and saying ‘Put me on more, I want to go out.’ Dan was like, ‘You just played 29 minutes.’ He is rested. He has missed lots of games. He can play. We definitely need some healthy players back. Our guys have done a formidable job in getting some points here. But you can only go so long without some of your better players. It becomes pretty taxing in the long-term, so getting Jeffrey back will take a few minutes off. It will take him a little time to get up to speed. With James Neal taking up more minutes up front and of course now Kovalev coming in, getting Kunitz back in the next week or two I think, we’re going to start to get some guys back. Hopefully it will come together at some point here.

On Mario Lemieux having insight on Kovalev after playing alongside him:
I think both him and Gilles Meloche, who know Alexei well when he played here of course and Mario was his teammate – Mario was more of a character reference than anything. Mario has always said, ‘You guys know the players.’ But having known Alexei Kovalev, certainly he goes to bat for him as a person and a teammate and things like that, so does Gilles Meloche. Asking Gilles about when Alexei was here, (Gilles' son) Eric Meloche was actually on the team and I think Eric still talks about how Alexei took care of the younger guys all the time and was a great teammate. So that’s his MO throughout his career. I don’t have any issue character-wise with Alexei Kovalev. It was more in terms of the risk-reward ratio here, as to we’re hoping the reward will be worth it. The risk is certainly minimal at this point.

On how Kovalev’s style as an East-West, skillful player will fit into the Penguins system:
We’re going to see. We have lots of guys who do the North-South, which is the way we do play and play other teams in.  But you certainly need some skill in your lineup. Without Crosby and Malkin and guys like this in your lineup, I welcome the addition of the skill of Alexei Kovalev. You need all kinds. We try like heck out there right now but we’re missing some of these top guys. You saw last night we scored two goals; Kennedy scored two good goals. But you have got two crash and bang goals there. Against Washington, I thought we really played a great game. Something was going to have to go off someone’s leg or skate in that game to go in. Even the Chicago game Sterling scored right on a rebound there, you’ve got to be right there. You need a combination of everything. So we are going to see where he fits in and we will see over the course of the coming weeks how things work out. Where we are now for the asset we gave up, to get that kind of skill, you’re not going to find that for the costs so we’ll take the chance.

On Kovalev being a difference maker:
I think obviously he is a good shootout guy and in the power play. The power play, with Crosby being out, has actually not been that bad percentage-wise, believe it or not. You just need guys to settle it down a bit. We traded (Alex) Goligoski, who was a fantastic power-play guy for us. He really helped bringing the puck out and into the other zone. But a guy like Kovalev is a guy who can handle the puck. He can settle things down up high and we have guys who can work down low. With Chris (Kunitz) back there and Mark and guys like this will give us another look. That’s just an added incentive in terms of our power play.

On looking to give up any high draft picks before the trade finishes on Monday:
Not really. You never say never but that’s not what I’m looking to do. I am not sure if there’s a player out there that we will make me give up a first-round draft pick or a top prospect. We are happy with our group here and I envisage this group looking forward to next year with the addition of James Neal and getting Crosby and Malkin back and Staal, that type of line-up. That was that deal that excites me as well. We will see. We have a few days until (March) 1 or until Feb. 28 at 3 o’clock. I think we are just looking around for little incremental changes if we can make those to round off our lineup. But if not, we are going to go with the group we have.

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