A Trio’s Journey Back to the NHL

For some players, the love for the sport of hockey is too hard to walk away from that they attempt to stretch out their longevity for a few more years, despite being past their expiration date. For others, it’s about getting another shot at redemption. The National Hockey League has a wonderful history of stories like such. Gordie Howe played his final season as a 51-year-old and scored 15 goals in a full 80-game season. Guy Lafleur retired for three seasons, even receiving an induction into the hockey hall of fame, but returned to play three more seasons before hanging up the skates.

In today’s era, you have Jaromir Jagr proving that age is still just a number, signing a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers, at the age of 43. While losing a step in his foot speed, the Czech forward can still provide some exceptional puck possession skills and board play, enough so to have convinced Dale Tallon to give him another year. Or how about Martin St. Louis? Set to become 40 years old in less than three weeks, the small forward still has a lot to offer and is a workhorse without a contract for the 2015-16 season.

With a free agent class that doesn’t have hockey fans foaming from the mouth, a few names have popped up over the last week that have started up rumor-mongering websites. The only question surrounding the three following names is, has time run out for them? Those three names are 42-year-old Alexei Kovalev and NHL-turned-KHL forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov.

A Trio’s Journey Back to the NHL

Alexei Kovalev

At 42 years of age, Kovalev has a track record to remember in the National Hockey League. In 1,316 career games, the Russian forward has amassed 1,029 points (430 goals, 599 assists) while also putting up 100 points (45 goals, 55 assists) in 123 playoff games.

Drafted in 1991 by the New York Rangers, Kovalev spent 6 full seasons with the team before being shipped out to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1998-99 season. With a Stanley Cup ring to his name already, Kovalev was traded back to the Rangers during the 2002-03 season, before packing his bags once more, heading to the Montreal Canadiens. It was then, during his four years with the team, that Alexei Kovalev experienced being in the spotlight of one of the biggest hockey powers in the world, for good and for bad. The Russian enigma dazzled crowds with his stick-handling abilities and showcased his undeniable skills in cases such as picking up a dropped glove while dangling the puck and fighting off a Boston Bruins player, or circling in the Toronto zone with the puck to meet with Darcy Tucker and throw an elbow to his face as a measure of revenge.

When asked if a return could still be possible, Kovalev told a La Presse reporter; “Yes, easily. That’s why I keep myself in shape. Perhaps I will receive an invitation to next season.” Despite his positivity, Kovalev also understands that mindsets have changed and the game is getting younger. While he may be in shape, he’s been out of the game for two consecutive years and teams may see that as the biggest benefactor to leaving him off their list of invites. However, Alexei will remain hopeful during this off-season.

Alexander Radulov

When Alexander Radulov was drafted by the Nashville Predators, the promise of a young, energetic, scoring forward who lit up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League had NHL scouts talking up his game leading into draft day. In his draft year, the Russian winger had put up nearly a goal-per-game, scoring 61 goals in 62 games with the Quebec Remparts and finishing with a total of 152 points. That same year, Radulov led the team in points with 55 in 23 post-season games and the Remparts won both the QMJHL Championship and the Memorial Cup. Radulov was rewarded several individual trophies in closing a fantastic season.

It all looked so good on paper. His debut in the AHL lasted just 11 games before the Predators decided to call him up and he looked good in the gold and navy early on. In his first two seasons, Radulov played in 145 games and put up 95 points (44 goals, 51 assists) while providing exciting play that brought the crowd to their feet. Then something went wrong. Radulov signed in Russia, with the KHL, despite still being under contract with Nashville for one more season. This led to a full legal dispute that saw the IIHF suspending Radulov in order to further investigate the matter. When there was no legal ground to do so, they lifted the ban and Radulov went on to play for Salavat Yulaev Ufa, while the Predators suspended him for 2008-09 season without pay. After four seasons, Radulov returned to the NHL and played in nine games with the Predators, putting up seven points. However controversy struck again when he and teammate Andrei Kostitsyn were spotted breaking curfew hours and as a result, he and Kostitsyn both received a one game suspension handed out by team management.

The 28-year-old has spent the last three seasons in the KHL, as a member of CSKA Moscow. Rumors have circulated that head coach Patrick Roy has been interested in bringing Radulov back to the NHL, to play for the Colorado Avalanche. Russian website championat.com has put it out there that Roy himself has contacted Radulov and asked him to come to Denver. Radulov has also expressed interest in coming back to North America and perhaps a questionable character can be handled by a coach that knows him quite well. The only speed bump in this situation is that Radulov has one more year on his contract with CSKA Moscow, meaning some deal would need to be worked out if he wants to play for the Avalanche next season.

Andrei Kostitsyn

Drafted 10th overall in the 2003 draft by the Montreal Canadiens, Andrei Kostitsyn’s body of work was one the team desperately needed. A big bodied forward that could play physical and score goals. After spending two seasons between the Canadiens and their AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs, Kostitsyn became a fixture on the Canadiens roster. In 379 games with Montreal, the Belorussian scored 99 goals and added 111 assists, while displaying some physicality and decent puck possession skills, before advanced stats were injected into the mainstream.

Through all his work, Kostitsyn, and his younger brother Sergei, gained somewhat of a small fanbase in Montreal, with many believing he could be a top-6 fixture for years to come and at worst a third line winger that could play defense and shut down opposition. Failing to reach his 26-goal campaign during his first full season with the team, management grew impatient with his inconsistencies and the dark cloud growing around him after photos surfaced of Andrei, his brother, and some shady looking characters that were believed to be part of the mob. Andrei was sent packing to Nashville, where as aforementioned, fell into some more hard times along with Alexander Radulov, and the two were suspended by management for a game. Following the Predators second round exit, Kostitsyn landed himself a contract to play in the KHL for Chelyabinsk Traktor. Kostitsyn has spent the last three seasons in Russia.

Is a return to the NHL likely? Reporter Chris Johnston seems to think so as he tweeted out:

A one-year deal for the 30-year-old Kostitsyn could be a sweet-heart deal, depending on the money he’s asking. Kostitsyn was earning $3 million a year, so he could expect something around that ballpark. Is a return to Montreal in Marc Bergevin‘s plans or will he clash too much with Michel Therrien. If many teams are indeed interested in his services, Andrei Kostitsyn could be a nice fix on a team’s third line, especially if he can continue his physical play and provide some secondary scoring along the way.

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