In his weekly notebook, Eric Duhatschek looks at how Alexei Kovalev's stock diminished, how Tampa's rose, and why Nikolai Zherdev cannot get a regular job in the NHL
Alexei Kovalev received about as low a return as a team can get at the trade deadline, a conditional seventh-round draft choice transferred from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Ottawa Senators, which is as close to free as the NHL will allow in a deal (that isn't masked as 'future considerations.') Kovalev is one of those maddeningly erratic players, someone who was traded on his 38th birthday and is back in Pittsburgh for his second tour of duty, after two tries with the Rangers, plus one each in Montreal and Ottawa. When properly inspired, he is still capable of producing magic, but those times didn't happen often enough in Ottawa - and thus Pittsburgh is really taking no chance by adding him at this stage of the game. Along with James Neal's addition later this week, it also ends the Penguins' flirtation with the Edmonton Oilers over Ales Hemsky who, if traded, will likely be the biggest name moved at Monday's NHL trading deadline.
In some ways, Hemsky at 27, seems to be heading down the same career path as Kovalev - a player with talent to burn and capable of dazzling on the ice. Peers and opponents greatly admire his raw ability - players love nothing better than to watch someone dangle the way Hemsky can. But the problem with Hemsky is the one that dogged Kovalev all these years - inconsistency, and when the droughts come, they can be deep and long because their confidence is so fragile.
The problem for the Oilers is trying to get decent value for Hemsky. They tend to overvalue his worth because they've seen him at his best and know the upside. Teams in the market go in with their eyes wide open and note both his injury history and how his game can fall off a cliff for weeks at a time. If the Washington Capitals do go out and make the push to get him, they'll need to overpay to do so.
The Caps are in the peculiar position of being a middle-of-the-pack offensive team after leading the league in scoring last year. But the numbers for all of the big four - Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green - are way down; and neither Tomas Fleischmann nor Brendan Morrison were properly replaced.
Hemsky would be a good fit in Washington and what if the Capitals were prepared to give up one of their two young goaltenders - Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth - to make it happen? The Caps have promising youngster Braden Holtby in the system anyway, and if Edmonton isn't convinced that either Devan Dubnyk or Jeff Deslauriers is the answer between the pipes, that might be a far better return for Hemsky than to land just another No. 1 choice in a so-so draft.
LIGHTNING STRIKING AGAIN: The one thing Steve Yzerman has shown in his rookie season as an NHL general manager - no fear - is the quality that served him well in his playing days. Yzerman completed a full makeover of his goaltending corps this week, sending Dan Ellis (who began the year as the No. 1) to the Anaheim Ducks for Curtis McElhinney. The Ducks need Ellis to be their starter for as long as it takes Jonas Hiller to recover from his dizzy spells. McElhinney wasn't getting the job done and in a race as close as it is in the West, the Ducks couldn't afford to wait.
For Tampa, the deal simply sheds salary and further establishes Dwayne Roloson as their No. 1, which is what he's been ever since coming over from the New York Islanders in the deal for Ty Wishart. In September, Yzerman told me his plan was to do as well as they could in the present, without sacrificing the future, because the turnaround in Tampa would take time. Well, as of this moment, the Lightning look as if they'll land a top-four seed for the opening playoff round and given how weak the East looks, a manageable first-round opponent.
Yzerman, meanwhile, has walked a fine line between adding in the present without sacrificing the future. Apart from Roloson, he shored up the blue line group with a power-play specialist, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and a shutdown defenceman in Eric Brewer. Brewer was a teammate on the 2002 Olympic team, so Yzerman has a first-hand understanding of how he carries himself. That's the sort of scouting report you can't get, watching a player from the press box, miles above the ice.