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Kovalev returns to Rangers in multi-player deal

Posted: Monday February 10, 2003 4:11 PM
Updated: Monday February 10, 2003 5:19 PM
  Alexei Kovalev Alexei Kovalev will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season. Scott Cunningham/
Getty Images/NHLI

NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Rangers added another high-priced All-Star to their struggling lineup, acquiring high-scoring forward Alexei Kovalev from the cash-strapped Pittsburgh Penguins in an eight-player trade Monday.

The Rangers, already with an NHL-high payroll over $70 million, are desperate to make the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

The Penguins sent Kovalev, their second-leading scorer, forward Dan LaCouture, and defensemen Janne Laukkanen and Mike Wilson to the struggling Rangers for forwards Rico Fata and Mikael Samulesson, defensemen Richard Lintner and Joel Bouchard, and what is believed to be $4 million in cash.

The financially troubled Penguins said recently that any deal involving Kovalev would require a $4 million payment -- the most allowed by the NHL.

"I don't think it's a salary dump at all. I think it's a trade," Rangers general manager-coach Glen Sather said of the deal, three weeks in the making.

Kovalev has 27 goals and 37 assists this season and was coveted by many teams.

New York is in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and trails in the race for the final playoff spot by six points despite its league-high payroll.

Dollars mattered most to Pittsburgh. Kovalev, who will turn 30 later this month, turned down an estimated $30 million offer before the season started, apparently because he wants a deal in the $8 million a year range. He is earning $4.6 million this year.

"This is a trade I don't think many teams would turn down," Sather said. "We were fortunate to be there at the right time."

The right wing is eligible for arbitration after this season, and an award in that price range wouldn't fit into the Penguins' $32 million payroll. Penguins owner and player Mario Lemieux expects the team to lose money this year.

Lemieux said he was going to do all he could to keep the Penguins out of bankruptcy, where the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators have already landed this season. Lemieux bought the Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1999.

It is the latest move by a desperate Rangers team that is trying to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1997. Sather fired rookie coach Bryan Trottier just 54 games into the season and moved behind the bench. The Rangers are 0-2-1-1 under Sather.

"He's an elite player that has tremendous skill," Sather said. "He plays hard, he's played very well this year. He competes and we need someone who can put the puck in the net."

The NHL trade deadline is March 11, and New York has 24 games remaining.

In the last five years, the Penguins have lost some of the game's most creative offensive players -- Jagr, Ron Francis, Robert Lang and, now Kovalev -- because they couldn't afford to pay them market value.

Kovalev spent the first six-plus seasons of his NHL career with the Rangers and was a member of New York's Stanley-Cup winning team in 1994. But the flashy forward often caused frustration, never seemingly living up to his potential.

He reached the 20-goal mark four times in New York, with a high of 24 in 1995-96.

Kovalev was dealt to Pittsburgh on Nov. 25, 1998. With the Penguins, Kovalev has scored 169 goals in five seasons. He had 44 two seasons ago and 32 last season.

Unlike the Jagr trade to Washington two years ago, when the Jagr asked to be dealt and the Penguins accommodated him, Pittsburgh general manager Craig Patrick wasn't willing to accept only prospects in return for Kovalev.

Despite his desire to stay with the Penguins, Kovalev never appeared willing to accept less money to stay in Pittsburgh.

"If I were 21, maybe I could stay in Pittsburgh for less money, but I'm not 21," the All-Star said recently. "It might be my last contract. We definitely want to be paid what we're worth."

The Rangers were able to swing the deal without giving up young players such as forward Jamie Lundmark and 19-year-old goalie Dan Blackburn.

Samuelsson had eight goals and 14 assists in 58 games with the Rangers this season. Fata had two goals and four assists in 36 games. Bouchard had five goals and seven assists, and Lintner has spent all but 10 games this season in the AHL.

LaCouture had two goals and two assists in 44 games with the Penguins. Laukkanen has been out most of the season, but Sather hopes he will return soon. Wilson has been in the AHL this season.

It was the third deal in a 24-hour span by the Penguins, who are two points ahead of the Rangers.

Pittsburgh traded defenseman Andrew Ference to Calgary for a conditional draft pick Monday, and received defenseman Shawn Heins from San Jose, also for a conditional draft pick, Sunday.


 
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