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Alexei Kovalev, Enigmatic Russian, retires after 24 years

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FUSSEN - JANUARY 4: Eric Lindros #88 of Team Canada shakes hands with Alexei Kovalev #27 of the Commonwealth of Independent States after the 1992 World Junior Championships Finals game on January 4, 1992 in Fussen, Germany. The Commonwealth of Independent States defeated Canada 7-2. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

FUSSEN - JANUARY 4: Eric Lindros #88 of Team Canada shakes hands with Alexei Kovalev #27 of the Commonwealth of …

Alexei Kovalev has retired from professional hockey, leading many hockey fans to proclaim, “ALEXEI KOVALEV WAS STILL PLAYING?!” 

Yes he was, in fact: He played for a second-tier Swiss team called EHC Visp and had 70 points in 59 games in leading them to the National League B championship.

So why hang it up at 41 years young?

“I’d have loved to play until I’m 50 but the injuries from the last few seasons don’t let me continue my career,” Kovalev told IIHF.com. “It’s a hard decision for me but it is what it is. It was my last season.”

His last stint in North America was in 2012-13 with the Florida Panthers for 14 games, in which it became apparent that his skating wasn’t exactly up to modern NHL standards.

But in his prime, Kovalev was one of the League’s true puck wizards: Incredible hands, incredible creativity and ability to finish. He had 430 goals and 599 assists in 1,316 NHL games, ranking No. 71 in career points.

Kovalev played for the New York Rangers, where he won his lone Stanley Cup in 1994. Kovalev played there until 1998 when he was traded to Pittsburgh in the Petr Nedved trade. It was there he had his best offensive season in 2000-01: 95 points, including 44 goals.

He was trade back to the Rangers in 2003, before the Rangers traded him again in 2004 to the Montreal Canadiens. He played five seasons there, and fans took to him to the point where they staged protests when the team didn’t bring him back in 2009.

Kovalev finished with two years in Ottawa, another stint in Pittsburgh, one season in the KHL and then the Panthers cameo. 

He also won Olympic gold in Albertville in 1992.

Alas, one major facet of Kovalev’s legacy in the NHL is his connection to one word:

Enigmatic, enigmatic, enigmatic and enigmatic.

He was the poster child for the “Enigmatic Russian,” a player with unmatched physical gifts who either never “fulfills” his assumed potential or finds the consistency his teams sought. It's codeword for "lazy" or "unmotivated" or "not born in Canada." It’s a label that’s since been applied to a number of other European players in the NHL, as well as Tim Connolly.

Was it fair? Kovalev could be a baffling player at times, looking like the best offensive player in the world one week and ineffective the next. So ... uh ... a bit of an enigma, one supposes. 

Fare thee well, Alex Kovalev. What are your favorite moments from his career?

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