Five teams to watch at trade deadline 

February, 25, 2011

Alexei Kovalev received a lovely 38th birthday present from the Ottawa Senators: They traded him to the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Penguins.

The veteran Russian, who carries the remains of his $5 million salary to Pittsburgh, didn't have much value after stumbling through two seasons in Canada's capital. I mean, when you get moved for a conditional seventh-round pick, I think that tells you where things stand.

This season, Kovalev has 14 goals and 13 assists for 27 points in 54 games. That's not much. His minus-9 rating, however, isn't awful when working on a team that has struggled as much as the Senators have.

Kovalev's play has picked up as of late (perhaps he was trying to impress potential suitors). In his last 10 games, he has six goals and three assists.

Penguins GM Ray Shero is taking the low-risk gamble (Kovy's contract expires at season's end) that the highly skilled winger can provide an offensive boost down the stretch and in the playoffs for his dinged-up team.

I would imagine that Shero leaned on owner Mario Lemieux for his thoughts on acquiring Kovalev. After all, Lemieux and Kovalev were teammates in Pittsburgh some 10 years ago.

Kovalev enjoyed the most productive seasons of his career during his first stint in Pittsburgh from 1998 through 2002. He averaged a shade more than a point per game (347 points in 345 regular-season games) during his time in the Steel City. In 2000-01, Kovalev enjoyed his best NHL campaign, putting up 44 goals and 95 points while playing to a plus-12 rating.

While no one would expect him to revert to the form of his youth, the Penguins figure a change of scenery -- back in a place where he's enjoyed success -- could be just what he needs. We'll have to wait and see.

With the trade deadline a few short days away, I thought I'd focus today's edition of the Five for Friday on the clubs that'll be the most interesting to watch over the next 48 hours.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.