Kovalev will make Sens better: Murray

Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray said the signing of free agent Alex Kovalev on Monday is unrelated to the status of disgruntled forward Dany Heatley.

Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray said the signing of free agent Alex Kovalev on Monday is unrelated to the status of disgruntled forward Dany Heatley.

Just a few hours after Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey said the winger wouldn't be returning to Montreal, Kovalev agreed to a two-year, $10-million US contract with the Senators.

"He's one of the highest-skilled guys in the National Hockey League," said Murray. "Talking to him, he was very happy to come. He thinks we have a good club here, and thinks he can be a nice addition to it, which certainly we believe."

The Senators GM said he hopes the 36-year-old Kovalev will score "30-plus" goals and help improve the team's power play. 

"He makes players around him a lot better," said Murray. "He's a big-time playmaker, he's real strong on the puck, and when he gets the chance to play on the power play, he makes the power play work, he's got a big shot."

Heatley has requested a trade from Ottawa, but he balked at a deal last week that would have sent him to the Edmonton Oilers.

Murray said the Senators felt the need for a top-six forward even before that surprising development.

"Whether we have Dany here to go along with [Alex] I don't know at this point in time," he said, adding that the club could absorb both contracts under the salary cap.

Murray admitted that the Kovalev move might spur Heatley's camp to act.

"There's nothing new, I haven't heard from his people," the GM said. "I did talk to Edmonton one more time today. They're, like we are, in a holding pattern. They still seem quite interested."

Kovalev will suit up for his fourth NHL team in a career that has included include stops with Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers.

He has posted 394 goals, 547 assists for 941 points in 1,151 career games.

Kovalev became an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and was offered a new contract by Gainey, but other players became available to the Canadiens.

"We hadn't agreed on the amount, but another player was willing to come and join our team," Gainey told Montreal radio station CJAD. "So the dollars that we had allotted there for a particular position were grabbed up by another player."

Kovalev, a 16-year veteran, played the last six years in Montreal. He led the Canadiens with 26 goals and 56 points last season.

The talented Kovalev was plagued by long stretches of erratic play in Montreal — none more frustrating than this past season.

Paid immediate dividends

Kovalev was named MVP of February's all-star game in Montreal, but Gainey told the enigmatic winger to stay home in March while the team embarked on a two-game road swing shortly.

Gainey said Kovalev simply wasn't playing well enough and hoped the rest would serve him well.

The move paid immediate dividends as Kovalev returned for a home game against the Senators, helping Montreal win 5-3 with a goal and pair of assists.

Murray said he wasn't concerned by the occasional lapses during an 82-game season.

Despite Kovalev's ups and downs with the Canadiens, more than 100 fans staged a protest at the Bell Centre on Sunday, pleading with Gainey to retain Kovalev.

With files from The Canadian Press