A pair of former Habs are off to Russia to continue their careers in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Former Canadiens’ star Alex Kovalev is headed east to play for Atlant Mytishchi in Moscow according to Sport-Express. The team website confirms the signing and has posted a page devoted to Kovy photos and video, calling him a “Russian hockey legend” and reminding its fans that his resume includes being an “Olympic gold medalist (1992) Stanley Cup (1994), world champion among youth team (1992) Russian Champion (1991, 1992).”
It’s a two year deal for L’artiste, and a team official told Sport-Express, “We have long fought for Kovalev and very glad that we could still come to terms with such a talented striker. We hope that Alex can reveal a wealth of potential in the Kontinental Hockey League, and thereby help Atlant fight for the top places in the next championships.”
Kovalev scored 103 goals for Montreal in four seasons and change, his 35 in 2007-08 being his high. He’s scored 428 NHL goals and added 596 assists for 1024 points in 1302 games. He’s also a career minus-30 in the regular season. He’s played 123 Stanley Cup games, in which he’s scored 45 goals and 55 assists for 100 points. He’s a plus-2 for his playoff career.
An exciting player whose hands, skating and shot were reputed to be among the very best of his generation…
… he long frustrated fans and organizations for what they viewed as not making the most of his immense talents, leading to disapointing seasons (not to mention extended conversatons and long walks in the harbour with former Habs GM Bob Gainey). But now, as a 37 year-old coming off seasons of 18 and 16 goals for the Senators and, briefly, the Penguins, he may not have much left.
Sopel announced on his Twitter account today that he had signed for “Two years in the KHL! So excited for this new opportunity!” He’ll be going to Metallurg Novokuznetsk, according to the link he tweeted to his wife’s blog. She doesn’t seem particulary thrilled with the news. Sopel was apparently also talking with the Blackhawks but that didn’t work out.
There is no news of this signing at the moment on the Metallurg website or in the Russian press apart from reporting what is being reported in North America. Novokuznetsk is in southern Siberia about 2,000 miles or 3150 kilometers southeast of Moscow.
Sopel was a Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks in 2010 and came to the Habs from Atlanta with Nigel Dawes in February for Ben Maxwell and a fourth round pick as Montreal was thinned on the blueline due to injuries. He was a pending UFA who played a dozen regular season games for the Habs sandwiched around a broken hand. A good shotblocker and penalty killer, he had good results on the Canucks power play earlier in his career, but he hadn’t done much in that role in recent seasons. He didn’t score in the regular season for the Canadiens and was a minus-1. He appearing in all seven games for the Bruins, scoring a goal and was minus-2.
Here’s his goal in Game 4, which gave the Habs a 1-0 lead they built on but could not hold, losing 5-4 in overtime.
There didn’t seem to be much interest from either he or the Habs to sign in Montreal for the upcoming season.
Sopel, 34, played 10 full seasons and parts of two more in the NHL, 659 regular season games and 71 more in the postseason.