Kovalchuk knows what’s coming against former team

Ilya Kovalchuk knows what’s coming tonight when he plays at Philips Arena – this time as a member of the Devils.

A youth hockey group sat in one of the upper sections of the rink while the Devils participated in their morning skate in preparation for tonight’s game against the Thrashers. Many of the kids booed every time he touched the puck.

“They are practicing for tonight,” said Kovalchuk, who expects to be booed by his former home crowd.

That’s fine with the former Thrashers No. 1 overall pick and captain. He plays for the Devils now and that means a trip to the playoffs. The Thrashers are hanging on for a chance to make the playoffs for only the second time in the 10-year franchise history.

“It nice,” Kovalchuk said of the upcoming playoffs. “That’s why we play hockey, to win. You don’t want to finish every year and go play in the World Championships. I won twice. Now I want to win something different.

“Every day I feel better and better [about being in New Jersey]. I know the guys better. I know the coaching staff better. The whole organization. I feel like I’ve been here forever because we’ve got an unbelievable group of guys here. Everybody helps me with everything so I feel very comfortable.”

I asked Kovalchuk the difference between the two organizations. He was candid in his remarks. He  referenced his comments following his trade when he said he was now playing for a “first-class organization.” Remarks the ruffled the feathers of some.

“There are a lot of different things,” Kovalchuk said. ” I can’t mention just one right now but it’s a little different organization. I know a lot of guys were [ticked] off when I said this was a first-class organization, but the difference between the two organizations – that’s winning. If you win on a consistent basis . … You don’t have to take it personally. You have to think about ourselves and make sure we do something better for the team next year.

“I didn’t mean anything personal. It’s just reality right now. [They Thrashers have] got so many young great players who can be really good, but you have to treat them right, train them right, teach them the game right and they are going to be successful. Like Pittsburgh, Chicago and Washington, they were last in the league and all of a sudden in a couple years they win the Cup or Presidents Trophy. That’s where they should look up to and try to do the same thing.”

Kovalchuk had dinner Monday night with his former Russian teammates, Slava Kozlov, Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov. He did not spend the night in his Atlanta house, but rather stayed in the team hotel. He said his mother and plenty of friends will be at the game. He will also get a chance to join his wife and children, including his new born son, in Florida following the game.

Kovalchuk questioned why the Thrashers are not playing Kozlov.

“I don’t know what is going on,” Kovalchuk said. “I think a guy like Kozzy, they need him real bad right now with his experience. I think the guy has played over 100 playoff games. Some personal reasons don’t have to go against the team. Especially now with all those injuries and he’s still not playing. I don’t think it’s right to treat guys like that. They did it to [Alexei] Zhitnik first, now Kozzy. He’s just too professional. You can’t say any bad word against him. They just sit him down and all the guys are disappointed too.”

Kovalchuk has said he will not negotiate a new contract until after the playoffs. Still, a smile comes to his face every time the word is mentioned.

“I know what my future is,” Kovalchuk said. “I’m going to go in the playoffs. That’s my closest future. I’m not a guy who thinks a couple years ahead. I take it one day at a time.”

89 comments Add your comment

Stevo

April 6th, 2010
2:32 pm

I think it is clear the Thrashers will not make one last run at Kovy. He has clearly moved on.

Smoothie

April 6th, 2010
2:32 pm

“I didn’t mean anything personal. It’s just reality right now. They’ve got so many young great players who can be really good, but you have to treat them right, train them right, teach them the game right and they are going to be successful.”

What does this guy know about reality? There are great, young players right here in Atlanta with more to come. Just another mercenary hoping to ride someone’s coat-tails to a Cup. You better not sign with NJ long-term as Marty, Rolston, Elias, Langenbrunner, Niedermeyer and Pandolfo aren’t exactly in the prime of their careers.

All you had to do is sign a 2 year contract for $20-22 M, live comfortably here in Atlanta, the birthplace of your 3 children and wait for the synergy to occur. If it didn’t materialize, you could always walk in 2 years when more teams may have more money to spend under a bigger salary cap on your over-valued and inflated ego.

It has nothing to do with winning. He will take the biggest paycheck that comes his way. His agent is Jay Grossman. Do you really think he will take a discount to play for a “winner”. It’s a new era and a bad team one year can come back the next and win (Philly, Colorado etc). He’s upset over how they treatd fat boy Zhitnik? Kozzy wasn’t playing well you moron. And they brought in more of your damn Russian cronies to appease you. And yet you are hung up on Alexei Zhitnik…OMG.

“I know what my future is,” Kovalchuk said. “I’m going to go in the playoffs. That’s my closest future. I’m not a guy who thinks a couple years ahead. I take it one day at a time.”

Evidently not, because you are too money-hungry to see what’s right in front of you jackass! In two years you might have been one of the most respected players in hockey while competing for a Stanley Cup with a young, talented hockey team in Atlanta. Just another mercenary.

I’ll eat crow if he signs for less than $8.5 M per year, but I have a feeling some GM more ignorant than Kovy will pay him $9 – 10 M / year.

erock

April 6th, 2010
2:34 pm

I feel the same way about KOZLOV. The organization did him wrong just like they seem to do everybody. If they were not going to play him then they should have dealt him or just gave him away to anybody. CLASSLESS ORGANIZATION FROM TOP TO BOTTOM. I feel sorry for everybody except the UNRESTRICTED free agents. They have a way out of this @#@#@#@.

Smoothie

April 6th, 2010
2:38 pm

Nobody wanted his old, tired ass. And second-guessing your coach is now way to endear yourself when you’re on the outs of your career. Wake up.

J.B.

April 6th, 2010
2:38 pm

you know, if Kovy hadn’t strung all the atlanta fans along by saying he wanted to be a thrasher for life all season and was as honest and candid as his quotes indicate here, he likely wouldn’t get booed tonight. He’d likely get alot of cheering and applause much like Exelby did earlier this season upon his return to atlanta.

Kovalchuk was by far my favorite player when he was here and I don’t fault him for wanting to go somewhere else to win sooner than later, he’s earned that right, but he should have been honest and not strongly given the impression he wanted to stay when it’s obvious now that it was all lip service.

Additionally, I always enjoyed speaking with Kovy albeit briefly whenever I had the chance, but he really comes off as a d*uche b@g in this interview even if what he’s saying is true. I’m not one to boo players, only refs for bad or non-calls, and if I was going to the game tonight, I don’t believe I would boo kovy either, but whoever’s going to the game that has read this blog post sure has more of a reason to do so.

Finally, I REALLY don’t agree with Ilya commenting on Kozlov’s benching at all. For someone who wants to win so badly, Kovy sure isn’t being very objective in seeing that John Anderson wants to do the same thing and needs to scratch Slava to have a better chance of doing so.

erock

April 6th, 2010
2:40 pm

SMOOTHIE CALM DOWN AND WATCH . THERE WILL BE MORE PLAYERS TO FOLLOW THE PATH OUT OF HERE IN THE FUTURE AS SOON AS THEY BECOME FREE AGENTS. Those Russians cronies are LEADING your TEAM in goals and assists.

Sara

April 6th, 2010
2:41 pm

Smoothie – I think you misunderstood what Kovy was saying in that first quote – or at least I took it completely different. Chris can expound on that but IMO Kovy *is* talking about the young talent of the Thrashers – not of the Devils. And his point was unless Atlanta learns how to properly develop their talent, they are never going to be in the same League as the Devils. And guess what – he’s right. They won’t.

We’ve talked at various times about the poor feeder system from Chicago, or how Coburn wasn’t properly developed and then shipped off, or about not having an actual goalie coach. Based on what Kovy said, sounds like the players have noticed those issues as well.

erock

April 6th, 2010
2:42 pm

second guessing your coach that almost everyone on this blog wants gone after this year anyway because his system dont work. Take a deep breath SMOOTHIE and think before you open your TRAP.

MB

April 6th, 2010
2:42 pm

Smoothie / C-Viv, maybe I misinterpreted this when I read it, but I thought he was referring to the Thrashers when he said:

“I didn’t mean anything personal. It’s just reality right now. They’ve got so many young great players who can be really good, but you have to treat them right, train them right, teach them the game right and they are going to be successful. Like Pittsburgh, Chicago and Washington, they were last in the league and all of a sudden in a couple years they win the Cup or Presidents Trophy. That’s where they should look up to and try to do the same thing.”

ChippersLoveChild

April 6th, 2010
2:44 pm

I pretty much agree with everything Kovy had to say. It hurts to hear, but he is right! The Thrashers’ organization is awful and always has been. The names on the back of the sweaters may change, but the ones that count (the owners and front office) have not. Until that changes we will always be the laughing stock of the NHL. I wish Kovy would have stayed, but more importantly I wish this organization would have given him a reason to stay by producing a winner. Winning cures all. If that day finally comes most of the fans here will hopefully appreciate Kovalchuk for the great player he is and for everything he did for this franchise while here.

erock

April 6th, 2010
2:45 pm

J B Where would we be in the standings right now if KOZLOV was playing in the shootouts the last few games he was BENCHED ??

Smoothie

April 6th, 2010
2:50 pm

Oh relax, I’m just having some fun at Kovy’s expense. Afterall, that’s what this is right? Entertainment? Just because Kovy scored over 300 goals in 8 years doesn’t mean I have to bow down and kiss his ass.

No, I meant what I said when I questioned his comments about young talent. Perhaps they’re the ones playing the game the right way — think Little, Kane, Enstrom etc…hopefully Bogosian will learn from this year — and he’s the one wanting other players to do the dirty work so he can score all of his goals and look like a superstar. My other point is we may be a lot closer than Kovy thinks. If he really believed we have lots of young talent like he states, why not stay 2 or 3 more years and find out? Perhaps he knows best, but I’m not willing to trust a superstar prima donna when he makes remarks like this. We shall see, but it sounds like he’s much more interested in chumming it up with his Russian cronies and fitting in somewhere else rather than actually lead a team of young men and help teach them the game the right way. He could’ve been a part of that, but instead he chose to hide behind his agent and take the road most travelled.

J.B.

April 6th, 2010
2:54 pm

erock – I won’t dispute kozzy’s talents in a shootout scenario but ideally you’d want to win in 60 minutes and not have the shootout be a factor. Neither JA nor any other coach in the league is going to create a lineup with a shootout as the predicted end result.

When he’s been in the shootout, he’s been great, but the fact is during regulation this season, kozzy has looked pretty bad. Hurts to say that too, because i’m a big fan of his, but I do agree with his benching during the latter parts of this season. There’s too much young talent to cultivate to keep a struggling vet on the ice for nostalgic purposes.

It probably could have been handled better, but the thrashers do not owe Kozlov ice time because he won two stanley cups with another team or because he was one of the russian five or because he’s (I think) the last active connection to CCCP hockey or anything like that; he’s got to earn it just like everyone else.

Sara

April 6th, 2010
2:58 pm

Smoothie I get your points. But given how skeptical many fans have been about expecting to see “real change” from this organization, why would you be surprised to know some players have the same skepticism? It’s his life and his career – maybe he doesn’t want to bank it all on “maybe’s.”

docsbro

April 6th, 2010
3:00 pm

Sara and MB that is the way I read it as well. I felt he was referring to Atlanta and how if they teach and train the players properly they can reach the top like other franchises have done. He did not say anything that was out of line. Again people he is not the villain, it’s a SORRY franchise and he saw the writing on the wall. If it was just as simple as offering him a MAX deal why did DW wait till one week before the deadline to do it. That deal should have been offered from the beginning. Good luck Kovy I appreciate everything you did for this sorry franchise…. It kills me to say that as a kid who grew up watching the Flames and was heart broken when they left. I love hockey, but this franchise has not done enough!! Ten years in and all we have left is DW…something is DEFINITELY wrong with that picture.

cleve

April 6th, 2010
3:03 pm

we should boo him , while the thrashers may not have given him the deal he wanted when it comes down to it , it was all about the money with him , i still have hope we can make the playoffs though.

Cornbread

April 6th, 2010
3:04 pm

Good Riddance! Kovalchuk is the reason the Thrashers are in the position they are in. A one way prima donna who quit on the team when they did not quit on him.

Smoothie

April 6th, 2010
3:07 pm

Sara – only because he has the talent and the charisma to help change it. And he was slowly being given the power. Perhaps it’s a good thing that it blew up in Waddell’s face because you can’t really build a team by letting one player sway every important decision. But it’s not Waddell’s fault that Lehtonen turned into a lazy, insolent dough-boy. Perhaps Kovy is a better judge of talent that Waddell and Pavelec isn’t #1 material or Enstrom isn’t even Top 4 or Kane won’t amount to much. But I doubt it. The guy doesn’t even know how to win a puck battle or lift someone’s stick. He’d rather, as you say, “whack a mole”-it lashing wildly at the puck as he flies by and says “damn” in Russian.

Chris Vivlamore

April 6th, 2010
3:08 pm

All: I’m sorry. Kovalchuk was talking about the Thrashers and their young players in that quote. I think he couldn’t help himself and slipped into “ourselves” from his days in Atlanta, but the essence of the quote is the Thrashers. He said if the Thrashers bring their young players along the right way, there is no reason to believe that can’t turnaround the fortunes of the franchise like Pittsburgh, Washington and Chicago. Sorry for the confusion.

ChippersLoveChild

April 6th, 2010
3:13 pm

Cornbread,

How did Kovy quit on this team? He came back from an injury weeks earlier than expected this season to help this team, which is saying quite a lot for a guy in contract year when coming back so soon could have caused further injury. He was a professional and a leader while here. I will never fault him for wanting to move on and be apart of a winning team and organization.

ChippersLoveChild

April 6th, 2010
3:16 pm

Smoothie,

If they were giving Kovalchuk power on decisions that says more about their complete ineptitude when it comes to running an oganization than it does about whether or not Kovy is a good judge of talent.

Smoothie

April 6th, 2010
3:23 pm

True, but Antropov and Afinogenov have both worked out fairly well. But most of the folks on this blog new those moves had the potential to work. More so with Antropov. I was even more skeptical of Antropov, but he has really impressed me as a well-rounded player. As for Crazy Legs, we all knew what were getting, but he has exceeded all expectations by scoring 20+ goals. While they may have not asked Kovy to furnish a list of players, there’s no doubt they were trying to appease him by bringing in certain players, Kubina included.

Chipper – question for you. Do you really think Kovy played as hard in December and January for this team as he did during the last 3 months of last season? I think you have your answer in terms of Kovy’s inability to commit completely. It most certainly affected his play. At first, I thought it was his foot, but by late December it was obvious he was either pressing and trying too hard or just loafing out there waiting for the perfect oppty to strike and make himself feel better.

PJR

April 6th, 2010
3:23 pm

Kovy is just telling it like it is. He will be paid far less money than he was offered by the Thrashers but will be much happier and successful with a real hockey organization. I have been a season ticket holder since the beginning but will finally come to my senses and not renew. People need to wake up and cancel their tickets until we get a new owner. I remember going to the town hall meeting at the end of last year and listening to the team spewing a bunch of BS to its fans and I could not believe how many people actually believed that the team was on the rise. Stop the nonsense until we get some real hockey executives to run this team.

Cornbread

April 6th, 2010
3:26 pm

And what did Kovalchuk do when he returned in December and January? QUIT. The team played their hearts out when he went down. He came back fired-up and then quit when things were not going to his prima donna liking. If you and anybody else can’t see that, you are blind.

Mr. Obvious

April 6th, 2010
3:28 pm

Ilya Kovalchuk = A bad, no-defense-playing memory from Atlanta’s past.

Jason Heyward = The Anti-Kovalchuk

ChippersLoveChild

April 6th, 2010
3:28 pm

Smoothie,

Maybe not about Kovy, but that is a problem that has plagued him since day one. I’m not sure any player on this team, except maybe Antro or Reasoner (Kane seems to fit that mold too) plays their ass off every night, at least that is an impression that is easy to form while watching them. I think it is and always has been to expect great things from Kovy every night and then on certain nights when those things didn’t happen it was easy to say he wasn’t playing as hard as he should be. His game has certainly improved over the years, but nobody is perfect.

Smoothie

April 6th, 2010
3:38 pm

CLC – no argument there really, but after watching Kane play compared to how Kovy approaches the game, I think it’s easier to tell when Kovy is taking shifts off or floating. But playing too many minutes forces him to do that sometimes and perhaps that was the bigger problem.

Also, I would add Little and Kubina to that list. While Little has struggled around the goal, he’s always fighting for loose pucks, getting involved in the corners and skating like hell to get back on defense in transition. And Kubina has been known to dive and sprawl and slide into the crease to block a shot when the goalie is flopping around. Sure, he gets beat badly from time to time, but what D-man doesn’t? He seems to bring it just about every night.

Sara

April 6th, 2010
3:39 pm

BTW, just came across this on the Yahoo hockey blog. As I haven’t been around much perhaps it’s already been discussed. If so, please ignore. If not, Chris? Please do some digging??

Elliotte Friedman on why Winnipeg is an option for NHL relocation, but why it may only be Option C. Also of note: “Remember that seven-year, no-movement agreement Balsillie wanted no part of in Pittsburgh? Atlanta’s runs out on March 31, 2011. Looking around the league, you’d think that would be the only potential dance partner at this point.”

Smoothie

April 6th, 2010
3:41 pm

Who’s y’all vote for Player’s Player and Dan Snyder Awards? Obviously, Antropov will win the Three Stars for his consistency.

Player’s Player: Hedberg probably, but Marty, Slater & Kane all have a shot at this I think. Yes, I said Kane. His motor never seems to stop.

Dan Snyder Award: Slater, Reasoner or Moose.

Smoothie

April 6th, 2010
3:43 pm

Sara – I think Elliotte is mis-informed. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen several sources cite 2014-15 as the end of the “no-movement clause” vis a vis the Thrashers franchise. Again, the Philips lease would be added insurance against this team moving any time soon. Can’t believe Friedman would buy into this crap as well. So much for him. Seems like Kevin Allen, Craig Custance and Darren Dreger are the only reliable hockey sages in the media.

nicholas

April 6th, 2010
3:56 pm

kozlov remarks about not rolling ‘3 lines’
kozlov upsets coach
kozlov sits

/end of story

ChippersLoveChild

April 6th, 2010
4:04 pm

Smoothie,

I’d have to agree with you on adding Little and Kubina to the list. Little might just be overlooked because of some of the linemates he has had this year.

Darkhorse

April 6th, 2010
4:10 pm

Someone should slip a cameraman 50 bucks tonight to put a closeup of Waddell on the big screen for a few minutes. Bet that will get more boos than Kovy.

DWTOO

April 6th, 2010
4:50 pm

What about Nik Antropov for the Players Award. He’s leading the team in scoring and having a career year. He dishes the puck well and plays in front of the net. Plus, he’s playing thru a hip injury.

Dan Snyder Award – Jimmy Slater. Hustles every shift.

SportsCrack

April 6th, 2010
5:08 pm

If anyone deserves boos it’s Waddell. Kovy played his heart out here in Atlanta and gave it his all. It’s been clear for 5 seasons now that the ownership and the GM are not the right people to build a winning franchise here in Atlanta. You can’t fault Kovy for being truthful and seeing the writing on the wall. Players want to play for winning organizations and it’s quite clear that the Thrashers have never been one. I’m the biggest Thrashers fan in the world and if I was in Kovy’s shoes I would have left too. It’s not always about the money or he would have taken the contract the Thrashers offered. Sometimes you just want to win and Kovy has earned that right.

Go Thrashers!

Smoothie

April 6th, 2010
5:11 pm

DWTOO – Nik is very worthy, just figured the players would look to a lesser heralded player knowing Antro shold have the most 3 stars points. I would not be unhappy at all to see the Human Eclipse get the award from his peers though.

East Point Bob

April 6th, 2010
5:23 pm

He should be BOOED. I am tired of the classless owners here and a GM who is not a smart as Bugs Bunny. I would pay to skate naked before a home game if they ever fire Waddell, that bum has to go and go now !

Kevin

April 6th, 2010
5:40 pm

I agree with him concerning Kozlov, he is one year removed from a great season and could have helped us down the stretch. He wasn’t playing great but he did deserve to be handled differently. Great coaches don’t let personal feelings affect their lineup decisions.

reg dunlap (aka stendek)

April 6th, 2010
5:46 pm

I am authorizing a bounty on that miserable back stabbing commode residue oxygen waste Illya Kovalchoke! Only the first one who knocks him off the ice will be eligible to collect bounty. Any Trasher have any guts or pride left? Guess that question will be answered in a few hours! ++STENDEK++

Beau Turner

April 6th, 2010
5:46 pm

I’ll be there tonight booing Koval-Joke all night long.

Suckers.

Pavel Kubina

April 6th, 2010
5:49 pm

Am I playing tonight, Coach? I need to finish my little chat with Ilya from the Olympics…

Ilya Kovalchuk

April 6th, 2010
5:53 pm

Andrew G

April 6th, 2010
6:03 pm

Slava has been invisible all year when he played. Bring in the young crop and hold players accountable. I’m sure there is more that meets the eyes than the fact that JA doesn’t like Kozlov.

Devils fan and not NJ!!!

April 6th, 2010
6:06 pm

Ok so i love the ATL sports teams, but if we as a city and fan base boo this guy we are freakin crazy!!! Those kids know no better!!! Get off this guys back!! I so wish i could be there to roote on Kovy!!! I also hope he smacks in the game winning goal that puts the final bullet in our heads for the playoffs… dont get me wrong i love this team and i always will , but we messed this orginization up when those classless jerks in charge traded Hosa and Kovy this year!!! I want this orginization to win win win but as long as you know who is in charge, we will be just as bad off as America is with Obama!!

4 jacks

April 6th, 2010
6:23 pm

The ownership of the Thrashers is deplorable. It is 3rd rate at best, and as long as these BOZO’S own the team it will be no better. I left after Hossa was let go, because the ownership is not committed to winning. They are nothing but corporate wanting to fill their pockets without making any real investment in making the team better or building a solid team for the future. Kolvy knew this, and to his credit he wanted to play for something more than fighting for the last playoff spot. Thrasher ownership can go to He!!.

Adam Dunn

April 6th, 2010
7:23 pm

Go Kovy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Destroy trashers, lets go!!!!

Adam Dunn

April 6th, 2010
7:37 pm

right on devils fan!! couldnt have said it better myself

Adam Dunn

April 6th, 2010
7:37 pm

1-0 devs over yoooouuurrrrr attllaanttaa thrashhhhhhhhhers!!!!

Sage of Bluesland

April 6th, 2010
7:50 pm

Laughing at Smoothiesheep, who still thinks it’s about money!

Wake up, if it’s even possible…

You’re so wrong on practically everything…why do you even bother? Seriously.

B. Thenet

April 6th, 2010
7:57 pm

Ilya is spot on about how pathetic this franchise is at developing talent. Until DW is removed, nothing will change in that regard.

Ilya is dead wrong about Kozlov. Talking smack about your coach to the media in Russia, not acceptable for a guy with a letter on his chest. In addition, Kozlov had been just awful this season, the only time we miss him is in the shootouts.