Skating on Ottawa ice for the first time since last April's season-ending knee injury, Alex Kovalev proclaimed himself as good as new Wednesday.
In fact, Kovalev is so ready for his 18th NHL season that he spoke of having another 12 or 13 of them in him.
"My goal is to play until 50," the 37-year-old Russian told the Ottawa Sun after his first scrimmage with his teammates at Bell Sensplex. "If they keep me here until 50, I'd love to play until 50. I mean, this is what I live my life for, the surroundings, and you guys, and teammates and fans. I'm not the person to be staying home and being by myself, watching TV. I'm kind of an active person. I like to do something with other people. I'm enjoying being in this life, the hockey life."
"If I get paid, get the job, I'll play as long as I can play. Definitely if I can contribute, (instead of ) being just on the bench and watching the game. Or feel like I'm too slow and can't be as good as other players, there's no reason for me to waste my time. I don't want to be getting myself down into the hole, and not produce.
"I'll play to the point that I still believe I'm better than some of the guys, and that I can play the game I've always been playing. I'll play as long as they'll keep me here."
Kovalev, who had 18 goals and 49 assists in 77 games before tearing his ACL in Tampa Bay, lights up at the thought of proving wrong the people who think he's on his last legs.
"My agent said that once to me, that 'you're not going to be the same. You're 36,' " he remembered. "And I scored 35 goals. So I said it to him this time, tell me I'm not going to do it again. Then hopefully I score another 35."
The Senators would be delighted.
Kovalev, who is in the final season of a contract that pays him a $5-million US salary, struggled mightily after the Olympics. In the last 17 games, he had just one goal and one assist, and was a minus-15.
On Wednesday, he said a sore wrist hampered him most of the season.
"It really bothered me last year to shoot," said Kovalev, who is just 10 points shy of becoming the 75th player in history to reach the 1,000 plateau. "I don't know where that came from. Maybe I did too much shooting (last) summer. I just kind of struggled (with it). It was up and down. It'd get to the point where it was hard to handle the puck sometimes.
"We tried all kinds of things. Sometimes it would feel fine for a little while, then it would come back again. I didn't want to go into surgery and miss the games. I was capable to play and everything. But you want to play a game with a clear mind, instead of thinking about this is bothering me or that is bothering me, how can I play around it?"
Having a year here under his belt should help him in 2010-11, said Kovalev, who maintains his first season as a Senator was far from a disaster.
"To tell the truth, I'm happy the way my season went last year," he said. "I mean certain things I'd like to see differently, but I can not do anything about it.
"It happened to me in Montreal, the first year, where the team had to adjust ... there's certain things the coach liked to do. Same thing. I'm a new player on this team. They have to find use for me, playing different positions.
"You know, overall, I liked everything about it. Maybe I didn't produce as I'd like to produce, but I thought that I had enough chances to score 25, 27 goals, and I just didn't. You've just kind of got to move on, every year."
For those who think Kovalev sometimes plays indifferently, he insists such is not the case.
"We all care for what we do, and we're responsible for what we do on the ice," he said. "That's the way it should be. Same thing with me. I'm responsible for what I do. Hopefully, I'll do a better job this year. I wanted to do a better job. I have to go back to my old game, the game I played 12 or 13 years ago. It's going to be more skating, more movement, as far as being too physical. It's never been my game, playing physical. It's more movement, more moving the puck and shooting the puck."
Being in the final year of his contact won't affect one way or the other, Kovalev said.
"I never really think about that at this point," he said. "I've played long enough in my career. It's definitely important for the family and everything, being in the same place all the time because of the kids, and changing schools and stuff. At this point, you know what, for me, I've got the job, and that's more important.
"If I've got the job next year, that makes me happy. Because I know I'm still going to work, instead of looking for a job I'm going to be doing and what I've been enjoying since I was a kid. I've seen a lot of players I've played with starting thinking too much about their contract.
"They're not playing the same game as they'd play if they didn't have to think about it. That's the worst thing you can do."
And Kovalev says he's ready to do the best he can do.
"I'm happy the way everything goes right now. My knees feel fine, hands feel fine, I'll see this season. It's pretty exciting," he said. "I'm 37 going on 38, but I still love this game. I'm still anxious to play."