'Inconsistent' label bothers Kovalev

Chris Stevenson, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

There is no question Alex Kovalev is one of the most talented offensive players in the National Hockey League.

The 36-year-old showed he can play some defence yesterday, too.

Kovalev, who signed a two-year deal worth $10 million US with the Senators Monday, fended off questions about his reputation as a gifted but inconsistent performer who’s had difficult relationships with coaches.

“I’ve been saying this many times. I don’t know where that came from. When the coach says something to me, I just listen. I don’t answer back anything,” Kovalev said yesterday from Russia on a conference call with reporters. “Maybe their feeling is I don’t really care. Maybe it’s better when you argue and the coach maybe wouldn’t think that way.

"To tell you the truth, I don’t know why everybody is thinking that way, that I’m hard to coach. I always do what the coach wants me to do.”

There was talk of a difficult relationship between Kovalev and former Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, who was fired near the end of last season. Stories of a rift out of Russia were denied.

It’s interesting now that Kovalev is dropping into a situation here where Dany Heatley has asked for a trade partly because of the way he doesn’t like the way he’s being handled by Senators coach Cory Clouston.

“All I’m looking for in my career is I have some kind of communication with the coach, some kind of understanding when stuff is happening,” said Kovalev. “If something goes wrong, I can get some of kind of communication, tell me what I’m doing wrong and what direction we should move. We’re all doing the same job. We want to be successful.”

The inconsistent label also wrankles him.

“I don’t know why people think that way all the time, they always say ‘inconsistency.’ There’s a feeling about me I only play when I want to play. I always compete the way I can. Sometimes you have to be more aggressive. Sometimes you have to be relaxed. It depends on the situation.

“I can play the fourth or fifth line, it doesn’t matter. I can play with young players, old players. Maybe sometimes I try to do too much because I feel I can change the game or make the team successful. Sometimes it works in a good way. Sometimes it works in a bad way. But I always play with my heart.”

Kovalev was enthusiastic in branding the Senators a Stanley Cup contender and winning a Cup is a priority as his career winds down.

Kovalev sees himself taking some of the load of captain Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and maybe Heatley, depending where the latter winds up.

“The way I look at it, they have one really good line that’s been successful year after year,” said Kovalev. “I think I can be part of creating two or three good lines, which is something every team needs to be successful in the playoffs. I’m not a big believer that one line can do the damage all the way to winning the Stanley Cup.

“Maybe I could be in the mix on the first line and maybe sometimes on the second line. That way everybody will have enough energy to have a strong season and compete for the Stanley Cup.”

But he also made it clear his first choice was to stay down the 417 with the Montreal Canadiens.

“I don’t really have any options, choices,” said Kovalev.

There had been contract discussions with the Habs, but Kovalev said he wasn’t given much time to make a decision and before he knew it, the Canadiens had signed Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta as free agents. He was out of the picture even as Canadiens fans demonstrated outside the Bell Centre to show their support for keeping Kovalev in red, white and blue.

“Everything happened so quick. There was not much time to respond and they went in a different direction,” he said. The primary reason he wanted to remain with the Canadiens was his family. He said he didn’t want to uproot his children. His oldest, Nikita, has just finished first grade.

“When you’re 19 years old, (changing teams) is easier on you,” he said. “The first thing I think about is family. When you move to a new city, you have to start everything over. The way I look at it, I’m disappointed for them. I feel bad for the kids.

“It’s hard to accept that things happen in life.”

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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