Alexei Kovalev or Saku Koivu: Who's the Better Canadiens Leader?

Daniel ArouchianSenior Analyst IDecember 2, 2008

For the last few weeks, both Miah and I were discussing who's the better leader on the Montreal Canadiens. Feel free to comment and give your own opinion.

Miah wrote the Saku Koivu breakdown, while I wrote the Alexei Kovalev piece.


Saku Koivu

Saku Koivu’s career statistics aren’t as impressive as, let’s say, Alexei Kovalev’s. As a matter of fact, Kovalev has a Stanley Cup ring more than his current team captain.

But there is more about Koivu than numbers; there is bound, there is history.

A story between him and the only team he has ever played for during his NHL career.

Koivu has been drafted in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, 21st overall, and started playing for the team in 1995.

In 1999, Koivu became the 27th captain of the Canadiens, succeeding to Vincent Damphousse.

In nearly 10 years at the head of the most storied franchise in hockey, Koivu’s journey with the team hasn’t always been shiny and sunny.

The team made it to the playoffs only five times, under Koivu’s lead. The best accomplishment of his crew was last year’s regular season lead. But once again, Montreal failed to fulfill more than the second round of the playoffs.

But here is the question: If a choice had to be made, who would be the better ultimate leader of Les Habitants: Koivu or Kovalev?

As said earlier, Koivu’s bound with the Montreal Canadiens is made of history and a lot of emotions.

Before even the start of the 2001 season, Koivu was diagnosed with cancer which took him away from the game, from his fans for the almost the entire season.

Fans gathered to show support to their captain, who was battling for his life.

On April 9, 2002, Koivu made his return to the ice, one of the most emotional and magical moments Montreal fans could ever attend—a comeback that would inspire the team to bring a great first-round battle against the Boston Bruins before advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

Through the years, Koivu stayed and remained with the Canadiens despite rumours and comments that were spread around, especially at times of doubts in the team.

Now, with a young team under his lead, his responsibilities are even more difficult, dealing with the pressure they all have to face. But his role as big brother to the young players isn’t undeniable.

We have a few examples regarding that.

This year, when Andrei Kostitsyn got a concussion on the ice, younger brother Sergei had a hard time focusing on the game rather running after revenge. Once on the bench, Koivu put an arm around him and convinced him to cool down.

Last year, a tearful Carey Price was sitting in the Montreal Canadiens room after a loss to the Washington Capitals during the holidays. Almost all players left the room, except the captain, who stayed with the rookie netminder, comforting him.

Those are just details, simple life examples, but they show the place this team has in Koivu’s heart.

Coach Guy Carbonneau said he needed a leader to stand up, which is, first and foremost, the role of the captain.


Alexei Kovalev

Traded on March 13, 2004 to the Montreal Canadiens, Kovalev is both a popular and controversial player. With only three points in 12 games in the regular season, Kovalev exploded in the 2003–04 playoffs, recording six goals and 10 points in 11 games for Montreal.

During the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Kovalev went on to play for his home town team of Ak Bars Kazan, for the Russian Super League, where he had 53 point in 35 games.

In 2005, he played for Russia in the World Championship in Austria and was the named the best forward in the tournament,

Prior to the start of the 2005-06 season, he signed a four-year, $4.5 million per year contract, and on Dec. 20, 2005, he scored his 300th goal against Ottawa’s Dominik Hasek.

March 25, 2006 was a popular moment for Kovalev with Habs fans. While playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he nailed Toronto’s Darcy Tucker in the face while carrying the puck. Tucker himself had hit Kovalev a few seconds before with a high stick.

In 2007, Kovalev sparked controversy by allegedly criticizing the team, the coaching staff, and the French media. The interview was done with a Russian reporter. The tape the reporter used never surfaced, but a majority of fans and the media believe the criticism to have actually happened.

The story was controversial because Kovalev had a bad performance during the 2006–07 NHL season with only 18 goals and 29 assists for a total of 47 points.

In the 2007-08 season, Kovalev seemed unstoppable with total of 35 goals, 49 assists for 84 points in 82 games. Because of his desire to play, Kovalev became the Canadiens captain on two occasions while Saku Koivu was injured. Surprisingly enough, he performed very well while being the team captain.

Right now, Kovalev is worried. With 68 shots on net since the start of the season, he leads the team with shots on nets but has only five goals, and none of them were scored in the last 13 games.

Does he deserve to be the team captain of the Montreal Canadiens? Does he deserve another contract at the end of the season? My answer to both these questions is still "Yes!"

The Habs need a leader in the dressing room, and he’s the one to do it.



  • NHL Offensive Player of the Week for November 6–12, 2000.
  • NHL Offensive Player of the Week for November 5–11, 2001.
  • Played in the NHL All-Star Game 2000–01.
  • NHL Player of the Month in February 2001.
  • Played in the NHL All-Star Game 2002–03.
  • IIHF's World Hockey Championship tournament's best forward, 2005.
  • Won the Molson Cup for the month of November 2005.
  • Won the Molson Cup for the month of November 2007.
  • Won the Molson Cup for the month of December 2007.
  • Won the Molson Cup for the month of January 2008.
  • Won the Molson Cup for the month of February 2008.
  • Won the Molson Cup for the 2007–2008 season.


  • First Russian player to be drafted in the first round.
  • First Russian player (along with Alexander Karpovtsev, Sergei Nemchinov, and Sergei Zubov) to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. 
  • In 2006, Warrior Hockey signed Kovalev to endorse their hockey sticks. Warrior designed a custom shaft known as the AK27


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