Ilya Kovalchuk was supposed to be the Moses of the Atlanta Thrashers. Even from his first season, few could doubt the left winger’s all-world goal scoring abilities. Before Alex Ovechkin came along, it seemed like “Kovy” was going to be the heir apparent to Pavel Bure as an unstoppable Russian goal scoring machine. Either way, he was supposed to be a superstar who led the Thrashers to the Promised Land.
Of course, that already-cratering dream came crashing down forever in February 2010 when Kovalchuk forced the franchise’s hand (or did GM Don Waddell finally lose his patience? Or something in between?) and the team moved Kovalchuk to Newark. Tonight will provide an awkward reunion for the sniper and his former team, especially since a Kovalchuk goal could drive the final nail into the coffin for Atlanta’s playoff hopes.
Rather than discussing the merits of Atlanta fans booing (or applauding) the former star, I thought it would be more constructive to take a look at how Kovalchuk, the Devils and the Thrashers played since the big move. The first spreadsheet includes Kovalchuk’s stats along with New Jersey’s win-loss record. The second provides the Thrashers’ results without the face of their franchise. Notice how similar the two team’s records are (despite Atlanta’s horrible powerplay). Naturally, click the two spreadsheets to better read the results.
Again, the two teams’ results are strikingly similar; New Jersey is 10-9-4 with Kovalchuk while Atlanta is 10-8-5 without him. Numbers-wise, Kovalchuk is still a point per game player (9 goals, 14 assists for 23 points in 23 games) and hasn’t hurt his team with costly penalties. I heard some rumors from sources including The New York Post that the Devils will wait until after the playoffs to negotiate with Kovalchuk. That seems like a reasonable train of thought to me; after all, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello isn’t exactly known for handing out big contracts, particularly to seemingly one-dimensional players. That being said, Kovalchuk has a chance to prove his value during the playoffs (although he might prove himself so valuable that he prices himself out of New Jersey).
In other words, there’s a decent chance that he might have yet another awkward reunion next year – only that time around it would happen in Newark.