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Kovalev's Ottawa run ends with trade to Penguins

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Alex Kovalev wasn't able to live up to the expectations the Senators had for him when they signed the Russian forward as a free agent in July 2009 (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Alex Kovalev arrived in Ottawa two years ago with thoughts of a Stanley Cup dancing in his head.

Now he'll shuffle off to one of his old stomping grounds to resume that quest.

Senators general manager Bryan Murray announced this afternoon that he'd dealt the mercurial forward to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. It becomes a sixth-round choice if the Penguins advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

For Kovalev, it marks a return to the city where he toiled for five seasons, beginning in 1998-99, alongside current Penguins owner Mario Lemieux. He is expected to bolster a Pittsburgh attack that has lost Evgeni Malkin for the season with a knee injury and is without star captain Sidney Crosby, who is still battling post-concussion issues.

"I'm definitely pretty excited because I've been there before and had some good years (there)," said Kovalev before departing Scotiabank Place today. "I'm excited to go to Pittsburgh and play in the playoffs because it's been awhile. It was a fun two years (in Ottawa) and I have to, like anybody else, move on and continue enjoying my hockey life."

Murray said three teams had expressed interest in Kovalev, who celebrated his 38th birthday today. But armed with a no-trade clause, he agreed to the deal that sent him back to familiar surroundings.

"He was at the stage here that (he wanted) to at least get a chance to go play in the playoffs," said Murray, adding he believes Kovalev will be a top-six forward who can boost the Penguins power play.

That's exactly what the Senators were hoping to get from Kovalev when they signed him as a free agent in July 2009. He produced 18 goals and 49 points during his first campaign in Ottawa, which was cut short by season-ending knee surgery last April. Kovalev found himself  fighting through the effects of that procedure for the early part of this season and had only begun to show his top form in recent weeks, collecting nine points (including six goals) in his last 10 games.

"Since the all-star break, he's been one of our better players," said Murray. "We knew coming in that he wouldn't be an every night player, but he would be a special player. When he played like he did the one game against Montreal, he wins the game (for you). When he plays on the power play and he was going, he makes the power play a lot better.

"It just didn't work to the level that we thought it would."

While Kovalev enjoyed his brief stay in Ottawa, he said "I feel bad I couldn't do a better job."

Said Murray: "Alex came to me to say goodbye and apologized for (it) not working here. He wants a chance to play in the playoffs (but) he's just sorry that it didn't work better here."

Kovalev also had kind words for the Sens Army faithful, saying "I want to thank the fans for supporting me, whatever situation I was in."

"For that kind of support, I really appreciate it and (the support from) the group of guys I was surrounded with on the team," he said. "They really are a great group of guys ... and I became close friends with most of the guys on the team. It's too bad it's ending this way."

With the National Hockey League trade deadline still four days away, Murray has already dealt away veterans Kovalev, Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu. He suggested "a few more things may happen" before the headline hits at 3 p.m. on Monday.
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