Ilya Kovalchuk is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Time flies when you’re covering the hockey world. Why, it seems like just yesterday I was suggesting the Atlanta Thrashers get with the program and trade star winger (and 2010 unrestricted free agent) Ilya Kovalchuk before it was too late to get full value for his services.
Former Lightning GM and THN.com contributor Jay Feaster underscored that point last month when he wrote the Thrashers can’t afford to play a game of contractual chicken with the Russian star – at least, not up to and beyond the March 3 trade deadline – and the time to deal him is now.
As Feaster and I both noted, the opportune window to deal Kovalchuk has long since closed – and that’s why I believe the best Atlanta GM Don Waddell can hope for now is a deal that gets him 35-50 cents on the dollar. It won’t be Alexei-Zhitnik-for-Braydon-Coburn bad, but it’ll be close.
Some will make the argument the course Waddell chose was the only one he could have taken, that dealing Kovalchuk without exhausting every possible solution to keep him would have been akin to driving the final nail in the coffin for NHL hockey in Georgia.
Too bad the team’s spotty attendance patterns demonstrate the Russian never had the drawing power his talents teased at. As is the case in Phoenix, it seems fans in Atlanta are prepared to fork over money only to see a winning hockey team. And as is the case in Phoenix, the Thrashers simply haven’t given them many winning hockey teams.
The most damning aspect of Waddell’s role in the Kovalchuk soap opera is that the GM has been through it before and seems intent on making the same mistakes. Only a couple years ago, Marian Hossa was in precisely the same predicament, allowing his stalled contract talks with Waddell to speak louder than any press conference or whisper campaign ever could.
Each morning Hossa wasn’t re-signed to a long-term contract was an indicator to rival GMs the player wouldn’t be returning to Atlanta; and each morning they understood the asking price for the player would drop. The same holds true for Kovalchuk, who will say many lovely things about the city and organization as he quietly packs his bags and moves to an organization that isn’t still seeking its first playoff win after a decade of existence.
The final insult to Thrashers fans will come when Kovalchuk is traded by Waddell, a good hockey man who has run desert-dry of excuses and should’ve been replaced one or two years ago.
Unfortunately, the franchise’s still-festering ownership battle has allowed Waddell to stay in power. If he is permitted to retain that power once Kovalchuk departs, it will be impossible to blame any and all remaining Thrashers fans for abandoning ship as well.
• A belated congratulations to all those behind-the-scenesters involved with the 2010 Winter Classic; the league’s media staff were on top of every aspect and ensured THN.com had access to virtually any place we wanted.
However, I have to say whoever planned the NHL’s New Year’s Eve Party at Boston’s House of Blues should immediately be baseline-tested for lingering concussion symptoms and/or performance-inhibiting drugs.
Why? Because the featured acts that evening were Dr. John (yes, this guy) and Aaron Neville. Upon seeing them, not only did I throw my hands in the air as if I didn’t care – I actually did not care. But this type of programming should be interpreted in one of two ways:
1. Forget about Kansas City, Las Vegas or Southern Ontario as the next home of a relocated or expansion NHL team – New Orleans clearly is the frontrunner nobody expected.
2. The league has a ways to go in determining contemporary mainstream entertainment for its auxiliary events.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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