Ilya Kovalchuk didn't leave the Thrashers on the greatest terms back in February of 2010. It was a forgone conclusion that he was gone, and it frustrated fans of the Thrashers because of his platitudes all season long. He talked the talk of wanting to stay here, and then poof. Off to New Jersey. Lots of fans, myself included, were unhappy, especially when word leaked out of how much he was offered. His contract would have made him the highest paid player in the league, a rare move by an ownership group too tone deaf to understand the importance of any highly paid player aside from Joe Johnson. Finally, they were offering someone useful money, and Kovalchuk decided to do "what was best for his family" and walk.
What fans didn't know at the time was that Kovy actually probably did want to stay, but it's hard to sign a ten year deal with a team that might not be there in two. And lo, the ownership group that delivered on exactly jack Zhit(nik), not only lost Kovalchuk, they lost Atlanta fans their team. There's a good reason to be upset at them, but whatever hard feelings fans had for Kovy's gone.
I noticed the thaw at the start of this season. Everyone got the grumbling of 2010 out of their system, and everyone got the Nelson Muntz "haw haw" out of their systems the following full season after Kovy's statistical numbers didn't match his contract dollars. Now? Well, let's just say that Thrashers fans now that we don't have a team have re-adopted IlyaKovalchuk. Sure, it helps a lot that Eric Boulton and beloved goaltender Johan Hedberg are also playing for the Stanley Cup, but I've noticed an increased amount of love for Kovalchuk. At the relocation anniversary not-a-party last Saturday, folks came in Devils gear and it was a near unanimous cheer when the NBC cameras showed Kovalchuk coming onto the ice for warmups -- loud enough that half of Taco Mac cut our party room a really odd glance.
So, what gives? Why the love for Kovy? Wouldn't you think that fans might be troubled by that one last stab in the gut the season after losing their hockey team: seeing three former players with their name on the Stanley Cup? I can see where that conclusion might be jumped to. Heck, there's been enough this year to frustrate and confound Thrashers fans past the relocation... why not cheer on someone who brought a hell of a lot of good times to Philips Arena? You have to cling to something.
Kovalchuk's chance at the Stanley Cup this year might be over with tonight, or it might live to see another game. Regardless of if Kovy gets his name on it this year or in ten, Thrashers fans are behind him. This has been one unexpected positive that we've been able to cling to this year. We take them where we can get them.