March 2 2004 Montreal Canadiens trade Josef Balej and a second round pick to the New York Rangers for Alex Kovalev
The 2003-04 season was a total failure for the highly paid New York Rangers, and at the trade deadline, the Montreal Canadiens, along with the five other Canadian NHL teams benefitted. The Rangers carried one of the highest payrolls in the league at the time, but were well on their way to missing the NHL postseason for the seventh straight season.
After acquiring superstar Jaromir Jagr midseason did not improve the team’s fortunes, general manager Glen Sather began to unload his other highly paid players, and made a deal with each Canadian team. The Edmonton Oilers acquired Petr Nedved, the Vancouver Canucks received Martin Rucinsky, Calgary picked up Chris Simon, the Maple Leafs made a big move getting Brian Leetch, the Sens added depth with Greg deVries, and the Montreal Canadiens added the infuriatingly talented Alex Kovalev.
Kovalev was an extremely mercurial player throughout his career, and that did not change when he arrived in Montreal. His point totals were impressive in his NHL career, but never came close to matching his exceptional skills with the puck.
Always the best stickhandler and most creative player on the ice, Kovalev’s passion and fire never seemed to match his talent, except perhaps for the time he got his revenge on Darcy Tucker for an elbow, with a nasty elbow of his own.
All of the being said, Kovalev still had many great moments with the Canadiens, and was one of their top scorers in his four plus seasons in Montreal. He brought an element to the team that had not been present in years, and gave the Canadiens an incredible power play each season.
Kovalev had a downright ugly start to his Canadiens tenure, scoring just three points in 12 regular season games. His only goal was an empty netter, and his postseason did not start off well either.
Though he had four points in the Habs first four games, he embellished a slash in double overtime of game four that led to a turnover and a Glen Murray breakaway goal, and put the Canadiens behind 3-1 in the series.
Kovalev would score in Game 5 and 6, and had a pair of assists in a 2-0 Game 7 win to help the team come back from a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 series deficit. His ten points in 11 playoff games would be a sign of consistent playoff performances to come.
Following the 2005 lockout, Kovalev would lead the Canadiens in regular season and playoff scoring, though he missed 13 games in the season. He had 65 points in 69 regular season games, and though the Canadiens would lose to eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes in the first round, Kovalev led the team with seven points in six games.
His 2006-07 season was the most frustrating for fans of the Habs. Though his tremendous skills would be on display certain nights, most games he was invisible. Kovalev finished the season with just 47 points in 73 games, and the Canadiens missed the playoffs by a single point.
The 2007-08 season was a huge bounce back for Kovalev, who would once again reach a point per game. Playing on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn, Kovalev led the team to first place in the Eastern Conference with his 84 point season. He led the team in points, goals with 35, and playoff scoring as well.
The Canadiens were once again bounced in the second round, this time by the Philadelphia Flyers, but Kovalev led the way with five goals and 11 points in 12 games.
The 2008-09 season was supposed to be a historic one for the Montreal Canadiens. It was their centennial season, but was also supposed to being a 25th banner to the Bell Center. The team fell flat and did not win a single playoff game, being swept by the Boston Bruins in the first round.
Though Kovalev’s totals were down from the season prior, it is tough to blame him for the disappointing season. The skilled winger led the team in points with 65, and was one of the few Canadiens skaters to score any points at all in the short series, coming away with two goals and a helper in four games.
Balej would play the rest of the 2003-04 season with the New York Rangers, suiting up for 13 games, but that was about it for his NHL career. The second round pick was used on Bruce Graham who never made it to the NHL.
Pretty good deal for a guy who would score 264 points in 314 regular season games with the Montreal Canadiens, lead the team in points in three out of four full seasons, and add 31 playoff points in 33 games.
Tags: Montreal Canadiens