As goes our captain, so go the Thrashers. When he was granted the C in January of last season, it solidified the team as his, and gave him a spark and some new purpose, and led the Thrashers to an inspiring end of the season run. His willingness to consider re-signing here in the off season caused Don Waddell to bring in some solid pieces: Antropov, Kubina, and Afinogenov have been outstanding, but unfortunately two of them are UFAs after this season. If Kovalchuk goes, chances are good they do too.
Today Kincade on 680 the Fan, the Atlanta Thrashers' flagship station, reported that Kovalchuk turned down the largest UFA offer in league history, of what could have been up to ten years and $100 million total. The cloud of Kovalchuk's drama has been weighing on the team since rumors started swirling in November or December. There are UFAs who are waiting on his decision to make their own. People are saying that the NHL's doomed in Atlanta if he leaves. The Thrashers losing the face of the franchise is more than a morale drainer, and more than a loss of revenue from ticket sales. It's a look at Murphy's Law rearing its ugly head, and it's a betrayal from someone who said he wanted to remain in Atlanta, and that it wasn't about the money. Hossa said he liked the city, but we all knew he was gone. He never wanted to come here to begin with. Kovalchuk, though, was drafted by us, is the captain of the team, and has a chance to lead a strong franchise back to the playoffs. Instead he chooses to waste this season playing hardball for money.
It's another in the unfortunate turns of events that have stalked this franchise from the start, and shockingly enough, are out of Waddell's control. If the ownership did offer Kovalchuk that deal, and Kovy turned it down, what is there for Waddell to do? What was there for him to do in the Hossa situation? Savard wanted to be traded to be closer to his kids, not necessarily to get out of here. Heatley, well, that was completely a blow to the franchise, but not one that the team could have done anything about.
The past few months have been indicative of Kovalchuk's mindset; his play has been waffling back and forth between average and abysmal. Tonight's play was punctuated with floating, absolutely no will to hustle or backcheck, apathy on the power play, and a frustrated stick break at the end of the game over his own goal. Whether he was frustrated at his own play or the teams' play is beyond me, and I'm not going to assume anything. But that frustrated stick break echos the sentiment of many fans in attendance tonight who were jeering his sub-par play. His relationship with the team, and with the fanbase, is as broken as that $200 piece of carbon. It'll still need to be mended if a miracle happens and he does re-sign. There are quite a few jaded fans here now.
And for those who find significance in these sorts of things, the Kovy's Krew banner was missing tonight. Ooooohhhh… it's a *clue.*