Kovalev's numbers have slipped in Ottawa, true, but Ottawa has slipped as a team. Kovalev was merely going down with the sinking ship, he wasn't the captain leading the doomed vessel.
Point 1: Motivation
Kovalev would have all the motivation necessary to ignite his game again. In a contract year, Kovalev will be looking to end on a high note. Additionally, he is back with the team where he spent the best years of his career. That sure sounds like enough motivation to me.
Point 2: Style
Kovalev has never been a defensive minded player, surely. Do they Penguins need another defensive minded player, though? The majority of the Penguins roster is filled with grinders who are sound defensively. It makes sense to add a winger who is all about offense, and Kovalev fits that bill.
His +/- stat is not the greatest in the world, but +/- is hardly a good indicator of defensive play. An example of this is Sean O'Donnell for the Philadelphia Flyers. He is a sub-standard defenseman in many regards, but led the league in +/- for the early part of the season. The leader now? Toni Lydman of Anaheim, hardly a defensive wonder.
Point 3: Age
At 38 years old, Kovalev is past his prime. This story sounds familiar. Bill Guerin was 39 when the Penguins acquired him, and having a less than stellar season himself. He came to the Penguins, motivated and happy with a change of scenery, and he produced well.
Guerin was coming from a struggling Islanders team, much like Kovalev in Ottawa. What's more, Kovalev has a lot more offensive upside than Bill Guerin ever had.
If people are still worried about his age, consider the fact that the Penguins, especially with the injuries, are putting many young players onto the ice. A veteran is able to teach younger players and help them mature, so in a team filled with younger players, bringing in an old vet makes sense.
Point 4: Personality
There's been rumblings of Kovalev's attitude in Ottawa and Montreal, and that the same will occur here and it will not fit with the rest of the team.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Again, Pittsburgh is where Kovalev felt at "home" most of his career. The Penguins players themselves, who are a very close-knit and tightly bonded team, have stated that he will work whether he wants to or not.
You don't get by on the Penguins team by slacking and not giving it your all. Do you think Kovalev will really try to coast? Doubtful.
Point 5: Lemieux's Word
Lemieux and Shero have made nothing but smart moves since they've been in control of the Penguins. A few haven't worked out, Hossa comes to mind, but not much was given up in those deals either.
Lemieux has given his own word on Kovalev and was a major factor in Kovalev coming to Pittsburgh. Shero's statement that spending the money on Kovalev was a "commitment to the fans" has been misconstrued.
By that statement, what was meant was the team is willing to spend money and spend to the cap to put the best product on the ice. With all the injuries, the Penguins have cap space, but that doesn't mean they don't still have to pay the salaries of the players. The Penguins still pay Malkin $8.7 million.
The Penguins continue to dish out the money and open their wallets to bring in the best talent and have proven their commitment to winning, at any cost.
Point 6: Secondary Asset
Kovalev was not the Penguins primary acquisition. The Penguins brought in James Neal at wing earlier in the week and will be the primary pickup this year. He will provide the main offensive punch. With Kovalev, he is a secondary asset. He will provide offense but will not be counted on as the main crutch to score.
If the Penguins had only made a move for Kovalev, there could be a reason to be concerned. But as it stands, this was a stellar, low risk move by Ray Shero.
So in a contract year, with an aging veteran who is looking to prove himself, it makes sense that he will have a great finish to the season in hopes of attracting buyers this offseason.
Shero can do wrong, but he hasn't done so yet. Why start now?