Kovalchuk looks to Ovechkin, Capitals for his blueprint

Alex Ovechkin has a lot to smile about with a first-place team and a $124 million contract. Ilya Kovalchuk hopes to get there.

Alex Ovechkin has a lot to smile about with a first-place team and a $124 million contract. Ilya Kovalchuk hopes to get there.

Ilya Kovalchuk had a close-up view of his alternative universe Thursday night. Another Russian hockey star. Another former No. 1 draft pick. Another franchise trying to work its way into the NHL elite — though significantly closer than his own. A fan base back home, comatose seemingly a week ago, that now runs through turnstiles to watch hockey, even if their driveway sits closer to SEC games than the northern provinces.

Kovalchuk wants that. Alex Ovechkin has that.

“He’s totally into it there — that’s where he wants to be,” Kovalchuk said Thursday before the Thrashers’ game against Washington. “The first time he came there, there was an empty building. Now it’s sold out every game. Every player wants to play in that situation. But it’s not just him that made that possible. They have great players around him. They built it.”

The Thrashers are still trying to get there. Kovalchuk scored two goals and Ovechkin was held scoreless. But a rally fell short and Thrashers lost to the Capitals, 5-4, at Philips Arena.

“We’re going to battle them all year long,” Kovalchuk said.

He’ll be fine. No matter how his contract negotiations with the Thrashers evolve, he will remain one of the NHL’s biggest stars. He has grown up. Marriage, fatherhood, being named a team captain — those things change a person. As teammate Slava Kozlov said, “When he was named captain, he started playing with more passion, more responsibility.”

No matter where Kovalchuk plays next season, he will have those qualities. The question is where he will have them.

There is certainty with Ovechkin. The Capitals drafted him in 2004. It was like an E.R. surgeon placed electric paddles on a franchise’s chest. Maybe the awakening wasn’t immediate, but nobody had to wait long. After missing the postseason in four out of five seasons (two with Ovechkin), Washington won consecutive Southeast Division totals.

Last season, the Capitals won 50 games. They sold out 29. That was more than the previous five seasons combined (20).

Ovechkin has that. Kovalchuk wants that.

Hockey is off the radar in Atlanta. Hangovers from so many non-playoff seasons (and no wins) don’t easily subside.

“People believe as soon as you win,” Kovalchuk said.

The Thrashers are off to a strong start (4-2-1). Seven games into an 82-game season, caution is the operative word. But it says something that the team is young, aggressive, disciplined and following their coach, John Anderson. It says something that Kovalchuk is excited. He hasn’t put his name on a contract extension yet; he has said nothing to indicate it’s not going to happen.

This has never been about Atlanta. He loves living here. (“Every day, I can wear a T-shirt,” he said, and don’t discount that factor after so many Russian winters.)

This never has been about playing in a traditional hockey market. There are advantages to being one of your sport’s biggest stars but nobody knowing you in the produce section at Publix. (When asked if he had grown tired of being asked about his contract, he smiled and said, “It’s good I’m only in Atlanta.”)

This always has been about the organization and its direction. It’s about winning. Ovechkin, his close friend, signed a monster contract last season: 13 years, $124 million. He made a commitment to the city and the franchise. Both sides in the Thrashers-Kovalchuk negotiations can paint this publicly anyway they like. But the bottom line is, he just hasn’t decided whether to make that commitment yet.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take — what I should to sign [for] or how long I should sign for,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

He greeted Ovechkin with a chest bump in the morning. Kovalchuk was on the ice at Philips Arena, Ovechkin had just emerged from the visiting locker room by the Caps’ bench. They’ve played together in the Olympics and World Championships. They spend time together in Moscow in the summer.

Now both are back in the NHL and Ovechkin has something Kovalchuk wants.

66 comments Add your comment

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 22nd, 2009
3:42 pm

Proud to say, uno!

Art Vandelay

October 22nd, 2009
3:43 pm

First? No way.

Art Vandelay

October 22nd, 2009
3:44 pm

Aw, man. Can’t even get first on a Thrashers column. May as well just give up.

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 22nd, 2009
3:45 pm

Was there an Atlanta in Soviet Georgia?

Chris

October 22nd, 2009
3:46 pm

Uh

Where are your football picks?

Oh yeah, FIRST

Tyler

October 22nd, 2009
3:52 pm

The falcons are playing the cowboys this week can we hear about that

Asheville Dawg

October 22nd, 2009
3:59 pm

your talking HOCKEY!? As if any one cares!

yj09

October 22nd, 2009
4:00 pm

It’s the middle of October… Football Please.

Asheville Dawg

October 22nd, 2009
4:02 pm

Um, isn’t time for your football picks? Bookies, uh sporting folks, want to know.

Ted Striker

October 22nd, 2009
4:08 pm

I’m not much into hockey — however I do dig certain chicks from countries that are big into hockey.

Transitioning subjects here, am I the only guy who thinks that Michael Jordan’s son Marcus is out of line?

Nobody made little Jordan sign with UCF, who has an exclusive deal with Adidas shoes. If Marcus Jordan (who?) is hell bent on wearing Air Jordan Nikes’ let him transfer to a school that has a Nike contract. Baby boy can score his 1.7 points per game and log 1.2 turnovers per game elsewhere.

RS

October 22nd, 2009
4:13 pm

“Ovie” strikes me as the kind of friend you wouldn’t want to turn your back on.

u-no

October 22nd, 2009
4:24 pm

Jeff, everyone is waiting for your fearless football predictions for this weekend. Several are hovering over the keyboards just waiting until you post so that they can be “first”. LOL! I even tried that once and saw how futile that is. Oh well, hurry up with the predictions. Until football season is over hockey will have to take a back seat on the bus.

me

October 22nd, 2009
4:26 pm

I care!!! I love football as well but I also love me some thrashers!!! Football is during the day on sat and sunday…all other days can be devoted to the thrashers!!!! There is plenty of room for hockey and football in the south!!!!

ATLFan

October 22nd, 2009
4:39 pm

Dang no love for Schultzy today huh? I like talking about our hockey team! They’re looking good so far and we should follow (you are excused on Saturday and Sunday). This is what is wrong with ATL fans! I love football just as much as anyone (ask my wife) but we can still talk NHL during the week and it won’t kill us! Jeff, now that’s out of the way can we get those football picks so I can make some money!

Matt

October 22nd, 2009
4:53 pm

I LOVE hockey and I care. Will it take Ovechkin type money to get Kovy to sign? Probably. Is he worth that kind of money? H*LL YES!. If we get to keep him and have Bogo, Little, Kane, Enstrom, and Pavs continue to play at a high level, I think this team can take a major step forward. Some really nice, young talent to watch. CRUSH the Crapitals!!

bob horner stayed hurt

October 22nd, 2009
4:59 pm

u-no….your are dead on….what is icing..?? do the Thrashers have a designated “goon” that fight..??

DamYankee

October 22nd, 2009
5:02 pm

I grew up in Michigan, we looked forward to the pond freezing up like people here anticipate the “World’s Biggest Outdoor Cocktail Party” (oh, yeah, we can’t call it that anymore), but to expect Georgians to support a losing team in a sport most have never seen is delusional. And it doesn’t help that the sport, at least at Phillips Arena, is treated as a novel sideline to “Kiss Cam”, deafening music on the PA and security employees who are ready to evict if you fart out loud, not to mention being run by the geniuses of “Atlanta Spirit of Stupidity”. Just reference this blog, up for almost 2 hours, 15 comments, and half of those bitching ’cause it’s not about football. For his sake I hope Kovy finds a better place.

All I'm Saying Is...

October 22nd, 2009
5:09 pm

With a hot start, the patient (Thrashers) does have a pulse. The patient can make the ATL aware of that its alive if they keep winning and make the playoffs (which almost every team does in the NHL). But they have to WIN A PLAYOFF SERIES AND SIGN KOVY TO AN EXTENSION to be relevant again.

LET’S GO THRASHERS!

Supes

October 22nd, 2009
5:12 pm

If it’s a long term deal…Kovy will demand north of 100 million for 10+ years.

It’ll be WORTH every penny. He’s about to enter the prime of his career (he’s still in his mid 20’s people!) and if you stay relatively healthy, a hockey player can go well into his 30’s (not like football players who fall apart, esp. RB at 32-33).

If Atlanta can sign Kovy it’ll be a HUGE win for the Franchise and this city. (plus on a personal note, I’ll be able to wear my Kovy jersey to games and not worry about lookig out of style!) :)

DamYankee

October 22nd, 2009
5:54 pm

Where do the posts go? Maybe I’ve been blocked for non-PC thought?

DamYankee

October 22nd, 2009
5:54 pm

Fierce Dawg

October 22nd, 2009
6:10 pm

good article JS, i love football AND the Thrashers. love all the home teams actually. Hopefully a win tonight will show signs of a special season

Buddha on Ice

October 22nd, 2009
6:12 pm

Come on people. I have been a Falcons fan and UGA fan since day one. But hockey is absolutely the most action packed two and a half hours you will see. If more people would support the team, we could give Kovy a reason to stay. But playing to half houses doesn’t garner much love. And to answer Bob, we don’t have a “goon,” we have an enforcer and his name is Eric Boulton. He took boxing lessons over the summer and TKO’d a Tampa Bay player on opening night. Go Thrashers!

Yellow Fuzz

October 22nd, 2009
6:29 pm

It’s funny that hockey players look like a lot like georgia fans I know. In the face anyhow.

Tox

October 22nd, 2009
6:54 pm

Kovy for Backstrom and Semin!!! ;)

bob horner stayed hurt

October 22nd, 2009
7:07 pm

Buddha….thanks for the reply………my indoctorination for hockey was from a Penguins fan…he taught me every team needed a “goon”…

Chef menteur

October 22nd, 2009
7:13 pm

Rush for president!

Chef menteur

October 22nd, 2009
7:13 pm

Oh ya did I forget?………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………GO SAINTS

DamYankee

October 22nd, 2009
7:52 pm

Chef menteur – here’s your sign!

Jeff Schultz

October 22nd, 2009
9:07 pm

Thanks ATLfan.

Wayne stuck in AL

October 22nd, 2009
10:42 pm

Only 13,192 tickets sold??? C’mon Atlanta, you could do much better than that…

Asheville Dawg

October 22nd, 2009
11:30 pm

See Jeff no one cares about this sorry team or sport. Facts are just facts. Face it. Or face off.

Sick Sasha

October 23rd, 2009
1:07 am

Great 3-point game tonight Schutlzy!

uberVU - social comments

October 23rd, 2009
1:54 am

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by JeffSchultzAJC: The #Thrashers Ilya Kovalchuk wants what Alex Ovechkin has. http://bit.ly/BksZq…

Jeff Schultz

October 23rd, 2009
8:52 am

Sick — I’m still upset Waddell never drafted me.

Jeff Schultz

October 23rd, 2009
8:58 am

Tim — Yes, according to Gov. Sonny Perduski.

Jeff Schultz

October 23rd, 2009
8:59 am

Chris — So, a little last night. Long story(ies).

Jeff Schultz

October 23rd, 2009
9:00 am

U-no.. maybe I need to start a T-shirt giveaway for most “Firsts!” I’ll have to think about this.

Jeff Schultz

October 23rd, 2009
9:01 am

Atlfan — I’m confused. Did you want the picks column or did you want to make money?

Jeff Schultz

October 23rd, 2009
9:02 am

DamYankee — I checked and your address is not on the banned list. Did your comment ever show up?

Jeff Schultz

October 23rd, 2009
9:03 am

Thanks Fierce

Jeff Schultz

October 23rd, 2009
9:03 am

Tox — Could you imagine Kovalchuk and Ovechkin on one team?

EA

October 23rd, 2009
9:13 am

Jeff, thanks for keeping hockey in the spot light. It is simply the best. Someone on another blog thought you might appear today since the other Jeff Shultz of the Capitals just happened to be the first star last night.

The mullet lives!

October 23rd, 2009
9:39 am

Finally, some NHL coverage.

Sonny Clusters

October 23rd, 2009
9:53 am

That Alex Ovechkin looks like me. Except when we was growing up my teeth came out from not bruShing.

hip czech

October 23rd, 2009
10:22 am

rumblings out of montreal (take it with a grain of salt, but hey, at least they report on hockey) that Kovy is close to inking a 9 year 100mil deal…that would be sweet!

Thanks for the biannual hockey column…

Andy

October 23rd, 2009
11:19 am

As a native Atlantan and a huge hockey fan since the day of the Flames, comments like the one from “Asheville Dawg” are embarassing. No wonder the rest of country thinks we are a bunch of backward rednecks. Ilya Kovalchuk is a world-class athlete and one of the top 10 best hockey players in the world….maybe even top 5. He is the most exciting athlete this city has ever seen.

Brendan

October 23rd, 2009
11:31 am

Good to see some of the hockey regulars mozying on over the Schultz column. Hey, folks. The Thrashers aren’t the oldest or 2nd oldest team in the NHL anymore. They’re young. They’re skilled. They’re hard-working. They ostensibly believe in their coach. I’m not quite sure the team has an identity yet. But they’re moving in that general direction.

Kovy’s deal, per Waddell, is something that will happen around Christmas time. Okay, that’s misphrased. What Waddell said was, “I don’t think we’ll be talking about this at Christmas time.” Me, personally, I’m not so worried about it anymore. If you stop and think about it, if Kovalchuk KNOWS that he’s going to re-sign in Atlanta, then he’s got to use his contract as the means to get the team he wants.

In Kovy’s shoes, and I know you don’t want to hear this, I’d wait until July 5th – 10th to re-sign with Atlanta. This way, I get to (1) see how much payroll Atlanta ADDS at the trade deadline, (2) see how the season winds up, (3) experience what this team can do in the playoffs, potentially, and (4) use my contract to land several more UFA’s in the offseason, on multi-year deals, like the one Nik Antropov just signed over the summer. Kovy reportedly requested Antropov. And Antropov signed a FOUR YEAR DEAL. If Kovy re-signs, he’ll play with the player her ASKED FOR … for all those years. Maybe Kovy has his eye on another Russian player or two … that he’d like to have locked up for the coming years.

It is a “risky” business, all this waiting, though. Conventional wisdom says that if a player doesn’t re-sign by the trade deadline … then you move him for all you can salvage. Waddell, for his part, is on the record with this statement, “We won’t trade Kovalchuk.” As in, “period, the end.” Waddell amplified that teams around the league will watch pending UFAs leave for nothing. And cited Bouwmeester in Florida. I know this much. Waddell doesn’t want his legacy, such as it is, to be made worse by being the GM who traded Kovy out of town. I think Kovy’s here for the full season. I think Kovy wants to re-sign. I think Kovy knows that’s it’s prudent to wait and see how this season plays itself out.

When Bob Hartley was fired, after an 0-6-0 start, Waddell coached the team to an 11-4-1 record. Bruce Levenson, mental GIANT that he is, decided to hand Waddell a fresh, new 2-3 year contract. The team proceeded to finish 28th and never did name a new Head Coach that season, leaving Waddell as benchboss for 76-games. That’s why Kovy should wait. As a fan, I wanted him signed on July 1, 2009. But in Kovy’s shoes, and BEEE honest, you’d wait, too. You’d wait to see the level of commitment from this ownership group. You’d wait to see what kinds of results take place. And you’d wait … to be sure … that all the players were giving their maximum effort to being winners, before you re-upped.

R. Stroz

October 23rd, 2009
11:38 am

Hockey has worked in Atlanta before, in the 1970’s.

The Flames were a hard nosed blue collar type team that out worked and out hit their opponents.

When Waddell started putting the Thrashers together, he didn’t understand the style of hockey product that would appeal to a southern fan base. After ten years years of on-the-job training, the Thrashers are finally becoming a large physical team.

For those of you who say, “yeah but the Flames were sold”, you’re right they were sold, however, the cause was an owner that was up to his butt in debt with bad real estate back when the interest rates were at 18%. The Flames were the only asset Cousins could sell and get 100 cents on the dollar to keep him out of bankruptcy.

Fred Creighton

October 23rd, 2009
12:01 pm

As R. Stroz points out, the Atl Flames were successful in the ’70s, both on the ice and at the gate, though ultimately diappointing on the ice (no playoff series wins)which led to declining attendance towards the end in 1980 … they outdrew the NBA Hawks almost every year, if not every yr (as have the Thrashers except for the last couple of yrs..) … R.Stroz is also dead on about why Cousins sold the Flames … hockey is a great sport, and the BEST sport to see live (except maybe for college football!) … if the Thrashers win consistently, which they’ve never done in 10 yrs, Philips will be sold out most of the time … but they first need to close the deal with Kovy ASAP!