Kovalev: Panthers pushed me to retirement

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Alex Kovalev used to be an elite player and he put together an NHL career that lasted for 1,316 games. He sought to extend his career with the Florida Panthers this season, but he only ended up playing in 14 contests with them.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon called it a “mutual agreement that we wanted to go in a different direction, that’s all.”

Not so, according to Kovalev, who finally made his retirement official last week after going a month without playing.

“I didn’t have a choice. That’s what has kind of been the frustrating part,” said Kovalev in a Montreal Gazette report. “Started the season good and everything was going well and, all of a sudden, they started pushing me away.

“And I just never understood the idea and what exactly happened. They never really explained to me — the things they’ve been telling me, just didn’t really make sense.

“You know what, what can I do? They’ve done their part. They gave me a chance to go back to the NHL. It’s just I feel bad I have to kind of decide to retire on somebody else’s terms, not mine.”

Everything went south for the Russian-born forward when he was called by the Panthers on Feb. 24, his 40th birthday, to be informed that they would no longer use him.

“They just said something about timing was bad and I’m not fitting in the first two lines and out of respect to me they can’t put me on the third, fourth line … which doesn’t really make sense,” he said.

Kovalev isn’t done playing hockey. He’ll go to Europe and look for a new job.

“I’ll just probably go to Switzerland,” Kovalev said, who isn’t too keen on returning to the KHL after his 2011-12 stint with the Moscow Oblast Atlant.

If this is truly the end of his NHL career though, he retires with 430 goals, 1,029 points, his name on the Stanley Cup, and three All-Star game selections. Still, Kovalev has some regrets.

“At this point, you can say I made a bad decision going to Ottawa instead of staying in Montreal (after the 2008-09 season),” he said. “Maybe I would still be playing here.”

Leaving Montreal marked the beginning of the end of his career as his production sharply declined in the years following his departure.

He participated in a Canadiens alumni game yesterday.