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PENGUINS Kovalev shipped back to Rangers; cash exchanged



Published: Fri, February 14, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Andrew Ference was traded to the Calgary Flames.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Alexei Kovalev was traded by the New York Rangers four years ago when they grew tired of waiting for him to reach his potential. He's coming back with the hope of helping them reach theirs.

New York reacquired the All-Star forward Monday in an eight-player trade with the cash-strapped Pittsburgh Penguins. Kovalev joins a struggling lineup that is desperately trying to reach the playoffs.

The Penguins also sent Andrew Ference to the Calgary Flames for a conditional draft pick.

That deal followed a Sunday night trade in which the Penguins got defenseman Shawn Heins from the San Jose Sharks, also for a conditional draft pick.

The Penguins sent Kovalev, their second-leading scorer, forward Dan LaCouture, and defensemen Janne Laukkanen and Mike Wilson to the Rangers for forwards Rico Fata and Mikael Samuelsson, defensemen Richard Lintner and Joel Bouchard, and what is believed to be about $4 million.

Cash demand

The financially troubled Penguins had said any deal involving Kovalev would require a $4 million payment -- the most allowed by the NHL.

"I don't think it's a salary dump at all. I think it's a trade," Rangers coach and general manager Sather said. "This is a trade I don't think many teams would turn down."

Kovalev spent the first six-plus seasons of his NHL career with the Rangers and was a member of New York's Stanley-Cup winning team in 1994. He has 27 goals and 37 assists this season and was coveted by many teams. Some apparently were eliminated by the high price tag.

Dollars mattered most to Pittsburgh. Kovalev, who turns 30 later this month, turned down an estimated $30 million offer before the season, apparently because he wants a deal in the $8 million-a-year range. He is earning $4.6 million this year.

"Our goal is to get to the playoffs," Penguins GM Craig Patrick said. "We believe this is a deal that will help us make the playoffs."

Big savings

The deal will help the Penguins save $2 million in salary this season.

If he doesn't reach a deal with the Rangers, Kovalev would be eligible for arbitration after this season. His salary demands wouldn't fit into Pittsburgh's $32 million payroll, and Penguins owner and player Mario Lemieux expects the team to lose money this year.

Kovalev was dealt to Pittsburgh on Nov. 25, 1998. With the Penguins, he scored 169 goals in five seasons. He had 44 two seasons ago and 32 last season.




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