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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Alexei Kovalev: Nostalgia vs. Now

When the announcement came down from Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero that the club had traded a 7th, or 6th, round draft pick for Alexei Kovalev, long time Penguins fans swooned over the return of one of their previous greats.  At a time of need, Kovy was returning to give them the scoring winger they needed!  Sure he was aged, with the trade coming on his 38th birthday, but it was the exact low risk/high reward move the Penguins needed to take.  It could end up being the move of the season, filling the void that the Penguins desperately need.  Just how realistic is this scenario, though?


When Kovalev left Pittsburgh in 2003 in an ill fated trade to the New York Rangers for Mikael Samuelsson, Rico Fata, Joel Bouchard, Richard Litner and cash the Penguins sent away one of their most skilled, and popular players.  The years that followed were a mix of success for Kovalev, reaching a high of All Star Game MVP in 2009 and a low of a torn ACL 10 months ago.

While a goal scoring touch seems to have returned to Kovalev, there's no promise that Kovalev's return will bring much success to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  As it were, in the four major sports there are four cases of players at the end of the road who returned "home" just to falter that seem to warn Penguins fans that their expectations should be tempered:

Scottie Pippen

Scottie Pippen was a Hall of Fame small forward who made his name with the Chicago Bulls.  He won six NBA titles, as well as two Olympic gold medals, along side Michael Jordan on some of the best basketball teams of all time.  He had a sparkling 11 season stint with the Bulls to start his career, ending in 1998.  A career stat line of over 18 points per game, almost 5 1/2 rebounds per game, and being one of the best players in the 90s.

Years away from Chicago gave Pippen time to prove he was more than just Michael Jordan's sidekick but something was missing.  After stops in Portland and Seattle he had enough in the tank for a return home.  In the 2002 season, Scottie Pippen signed a contract to come back to the Chicago Bulls and play for the team with whom he'd made his mark.

An injury plagued 24 games later, Scottie Pippen had a stat line that showed his age more than his legs.  His points per game were a near 13 points under his previous total, only 5.9 per game, on his first stint with the team he'd made a world wide power house and his body just could not handle the rigors of the NBA any longer.  It was the last time Scottie Pippen played in the NBA.


Rogers Clemens


Roger "The Rocket" Clemens had carved out a niche as a Cy Young winning pitcher in Boston with the Red Sox before his career began to flounder.  He was shipped off to the Toronto Blue Jays before finding his way to the New York Yankees in 1999.  While with the Yankees Clemens was part of four World Series teams, winning it all in 1999 and 2000.  He had a career record as a Yankee in five seasons of 77-36 with a 4.01 ERA striking out 946 batters all in 157 starts and another Cy Young. 

After a literally brief retirement of a few months and a three season stint with the Houston Astros and a World Series appearance, Roger Clemens decided to give it one last go half way through the 2007 season.   He announced his return to the team where he had his career resurgence, the New York Yankees.

At 44 years of age, Roger's body just didn't have the kick it had for his high powered fast ball.  Despite plenty of rest joining the Yankees in June, his body started giving out.  Going 6-6 in 18 starts, Clemens allowed over 4 runs per game and only struck out 68.  His season ended unceremoniously, being taken out of the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians after a recurring hamstring injury felled him.


Randy Moss

The curious case of Randy Moss.  At only 34 his future in the NFL is in question.  If anyone looked at his start with the Minnesota Vikings people would find this incredibly hard to believe.  From his rookie in 1998 to his final season in Minnesota in 2004, Moss was one of the preeminent wide receivers in the NFL.  Raking up nearly 10,000 yards (9142 total), catching 90 touchdowns, and being an all out threat one would have figured he'd be in the league for years to come.

Following an unsuccessful stint with the Oakland Raiders in an NFL black hole he had a career resurgence with the New England Patriots.  For three years Randy played nice and was the consummate professional in Bill Belichick's team first system.  In 2010 things soured.  The Patriots were looking to unload him.  The Minnesota Vikings needed receivers.  Randy went home.

What could have been a dream scenario for Vikings fans, Randy Moss being thrown to by Brett Favre, turned into a nightmare.  Moss was a cancer in an already contentious locker room.  In four games Moss only caught two touchdowns and compiled a full 174 yards before being put on waivers and claimed by the Tennessee Titans.


Peter Forsberg

Peter Forsberg.  He's a legend.  Two Gold Medals and two Stanley Cups lie in his wake.  A supreme talent cut short due to foot injuries.  His career started in the Quebec/Colorado system.  10 seasons, 216 goals, 525 assists, and 741 points later Forsberg had made his mark in the history of the Nordiques/Avalanche and the NHL.  After the lock out the salary cap and injuries led to the Avalanche parting ways with Foppa.

After a season and a half with the Philadelphia Flyers and half a season with the Nashville Predators Forsberg took off to Europe, stating he wouldn't play in the NHL again.  More foot surgeries and ankle injuries had slowed him and he made a comfortable living playing for Modo of the Swedish Elite League.  Until Colorado came calling.

Part one of Foppa's comeback started in February of 2008.  He would play in nine games for the Avalanche, only scoring one goal but racking up 13 assists on an Avalanche team which did not reach the playoffs.  Not a bad return, but the story doesn't end there.  Just this year, after two seasons in Sweden Forsberg made one last go of it.  He suited up for Colorado for two games.  After no goals, no assists, and ended up with a -4 in the stat column he hung it up for good at age 37.



There's no saying that Alexei Kovalev's return to the Penguins will be as unfortunately uneventful as these stars.  Maybe Kovy's return to the team that made him most notable will give him a jump start.  He could be the missing piece to the offensive puzzle that the Pens have faced the past few weeks with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out.  Unfortunately for Pens fans, based on recent history it shouldn't be counted on.

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