Alex Kovalev has become a bit of an --- hey, get ready for this word again -- enigma since his last stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 2000s. His reputation took a hit in his most recent stop, Ottawa, and it didn't help that he was making more money than his production called for, too.
If there's any evidence that there was virtually no market for Kovalev this season (due to both his cap hit and his reputation), you only have to look as far as what was given up for him -- a conditional sixth or seventh round pick in the 2011 draft. Yes, it's possible (though unlikely) that Kovalev was traded for Mr. Irrelevant 2011.
So why did the Penguins feel he was a good fit? Dan Bylsma is the kind of coach that won't deal with guys who don't work, after all. Well, apparently, Penguins legend Mario Lemieux stuck up for his former teammate before the deal.
"Mario was more of a character reference than anything," general manager Ray Shero told the media on Thursday. "Mario has always said, ‘You guys know the players.' But having known Alexei Kovalev, certainly he goes to bat for him as a person and a teammate and things like that."
"So does Gilles Meloche. Asking Gilles about when Alexei was here, Eric Meloche was actually on the team and I think Eric still talks about how Alexei took care of the younger guys all the time and was a great teammate. So that's his MO throughout his career. I don't have any issue character-wise with Alexei Kovalev."
People in Pittsburgh trust and basically worship Lemieux's opinion, so with that one statement, any concerns about Kovalev's attitude likely went right out the window.