"I know I can match anyone in this locker room," he said. "I can still play this game.
But a month later, two days before his 40th birthday, he played his final game with the club on February 22.
Now he's gone.
Kovalev has since made the end of his Kardashian-length marriage to the Panthers official, quietly signing his retirement papers this week and calling it a career, according George Richards.
He deserved a better ending, something more akin to a victory lap than whatever the weird thing in Florida was. Even if his self-assessment turned out to be a little off, when he was at his best, he was one of hockey's best. Kovalev's incredible career was a large part of the reason the Panthers opted not to waive him back in February.
A Hall of Famer? Perhaps. Based on his playing days in Russia and with the NHL, he most definitely has a case.
That's a big reason why the Panthers didn't force him out by putting him on waivers and making him refuse an assignment to San Antonio.
"He's a classy guy who has had a great career," Tallon said last week.
For all of the knocks against Kovalev, especially later in his career, he remains one of the most skilful players the game has ever seen. In 1,316 NHL games, Kovalev finishes with 430 goals and 599 assists for 1029 points.
He was one of the first four Russians to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup as a member of the 1994 New York Rangers.
It may have ended strangely, but I don't think theres any doubt that Alex Kovalev's had a Hall of Fame career.
Here's his final NHL goal:
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