On November 18, 1998 the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that Left Winger Petr Nedved, Defenseman Chris Tamer and Center Sean Pronger were traded to the New York Rangers in exchange for often criticized Right Winger Alexei Kovalev, Centre Harry York and 2.5 million dollars in cash.
From the naked eye, it appears that Kovalev was the intended target of the trade for the Penguins.
After all, what would the motivation be to trade a player (Nedved) that put up 170 Points (78 Goals, 92 assists) in 154 regular season games?
Negotiations went sideways pretty quickly between the two sides, resulting with Nedved electing to sit out the entire 1997-1998 season, where he would toil in a Czech League and sign with the IHL’s Las Vegas Thunder.
A 1 hour and 20 min flight away in New York City, a similar situation was brewing between the Rangers and Alexei Kovalev.
The new Ranger regime including head coach John Muckler were beginning to feel Kovalev’s production on the ice was not matching his innate ability and began to question his motivation. (A reputation that would supplant Kovalev the rest of his career)
So, here we have a couple of players that could both use a change of scenery.
Sounds like a simple deal right?
WRONG. Lets dig a little deeper.
The Penguins were trying to make a hard sale on Nedved to the GM’s around the league. The club was growing tired of his antics and felt the time was ripe to make a move.
Further Complicating matters at the time was the fact the Penguins were bankrupt. (I will be doing a series in future focusing on the financial conundrums the Penguins have faced over the years)
Pittsburgh was bleeding cash and needed some help fast.
The Penguins had filed for bankruptcy protection in October and owed creditors as much as $123 Million, more than the franchise's estimated $130 Million dollar value.
Facing an arbitration hearing and being saddled with a huge contract was just something the Penguins could not afford to do. Literally and figuratively.
From GM Craig Patrick, “We talked around and around and around with a number of clubs," Patrick said. "We had a number of different players with a number of different clubs. We couldn't really get the pieces that fit our puzzle until now."
Only the Rangers seemed poised to accept the risk that accompanied Nedved.
The other team that showed modest interest was the Florida Panthers but nothing from the Gulf Coast ever materialized.
Perhaps, the Rangers felt that the devil you know was the better choice. (During his previous Ranger 46 game tenure in 1994-1995. Nedved raised the ire of Mark Messier and Colin Campbell) Resulting in the trade that took place in August of 1995 the Penguins sent Luc Robitaille and Ulf Samuelsson to the Rangers in exchange for Nedved and Sergei Zubov.
It is often said a “good” compromise leaves both sides a little unhappy.
Let's take a look at the how the deal unfolded.
What the Rangers wanted was rather simple.
They wanted to guarantee that Nedved would play for them and not make them pull out an atlas to play a game of “Where in the World is Petr Nedved?”. They worked out a 3 year deal worth about 4 Million per season. Which was substantially less than the Penguins offered him the previous season.
Many felt that the season Nedved “sat out” diminished his value and lowered his stock. Good news for the Rangers, bad news for Nedved’s bank account.
For what it’s worth, I would have signed for a million per season.
The Penguins concessions included: wanting the Rangers to pay all or some of Kovalev's $1.5 million salary and some of the $2.33 million the Penguins owed Kevin Stevens and 4 Million dollars.
When the deal was submitted to the League offices for approval, Gary Bettman felt the 4 million in cash was a tad extravagant and told the teams to settle on a lower value.
Which they did. $2.5 Million.
The Penguins did value adding Kovalev to the roster, it was not (allegedly) just about the cash.
According to GM Patrick -"We are fortunate to add a world class player like Alexei under these difficult circumstances," Patrick said. "We finally feel we received proper value for our asset."
History would tell us that the $2.5 Million cash injection from the Rangers was the linchpin to the deal. It kept the team afloat long enough to secure more financing and begin the process to shore up the long term stability of the franchise.
Side note - History has an interesting way of repeating itself. During the 2002-2003 season Kovalev was shipped back to the Rangers in what many considered to be a cost cutting move.
As for the other players involved in the deal, take a look below and see what they contributed to the Penguins.
Harry York - Would appear in 2 games for the Penguins before being claimed off waivers by the Vancouver Canucks.
Sean Pronger - (Older Brother of HHOF’er Chris Pronger) - Appeared in 7 games for the Penguins over 2 seasons, Scoring 1 goal and earning 2 PIM
Chris Tamer - Appeared in 253 Games for the Penguins over 6 seasons, adding 29 Points (8 Goals, 21 assists) and 588 PIM.
Thanks for reading and feel free to add me on Twitter @robsBurgh and Instagram @once.a.penguin